By John Celock
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s dominance of the Garden State GOP is taking a dive as a new poll shows him trailing in the GOP presidential race in the state.
A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released Monday shows that businessman Donald Trump leads Christie 21 percent to 12 percent among New Jersey Republicans. The poll also indicated that 55 percent of those surveyed believe Christie’s best shot at the White House has passed him by and seven in 10 surveyed don’t believe he’d make a good president. The poll also indicated that while Trump leads among New Jersey Republicans, 59 percent of those surveyed don’t have a favorable opinion of him.
Christie and his allies have long dominated New Jersey Republican politics, stemming from his victory in the 2009 Republican gubernatorial primary. At the same time, Christie, who hails from the more moderate establishment wing of the New Jersey GOP has had to battle more conservative Republicans who had backed former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan in the 2009 primary.
Christie’s domination of the Garden State GOP has led Republicans in the state Legislature to usually march in lock step with him, with defections rare. Among the most prominent rebellions among legislative Republicans was in 2013 when Senate Republicans reelected Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield), who Christie had wanted to replace with one of his own allies. Christie though has focused the state GOP on growing his own national ambitions and GOP down ballot victories during his tenure have been rare.
Christie has long formed close relationships with Democratic leaders in an effort to govern with a Democratic Legislature. Among his closest allies have been South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross and State Sen./Union City Mayor Brian Stack (D). During his 2013 reelection bid, over 60 Democratic elected officials in New Jersey backed Christie over Democratic nominee Barbara Buono.
Trump has been a statewide brand in New Jersey since the 1980s when he first opened casinos in Atlantic City. Trump’s New Jersey holdings have grown to include golf courses, along with a condo tower along the Jersey City waterfront. Trump’s New York City base has also led New Jersey voters to be long inudated with headlines regarding the billionaire developer’s personal life.
Trump’s relatives also have a long history in New Jersey with his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry having served as a federal district court and appeals court judge in the state since 1983. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, owns a real estate development firm that does business in the state and through his ownership of the Observer Media Group, controls a prominent New Jersey political news site, PolitickerNJ.com. Kushner’s father, Charles, is a long time real estate developer in the state who raised money for former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (D).