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How Breasts (and Health Care) Swung a Governor's Race

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Poor Chris Christie. The New Jersey Republican's gubernatorial campaign is being run by the same brainiacs who thought hiding Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential bid in Florida was the way to the GOP nomination. Maybe the third time's a charm for these wayward strategists? Unfortunately for Christie, this is only their second go-around.

Like Giuliani's doomed campaign, Christie was the early (and late) front-runner in New Jersey, sitting atop a double digit lead for a long stretch of 2009. Now the race is neck and neck -- not even 'margin of error' close; one point close according to the two latest polls.

New Jersey hasn't re-elected a Democratic governor since 1977, but if the new polls are correct, the long-unpopular Jon Corzine will pull it off. Pollsters never seem to get the state right -- the Democrats' superior turnout operation is good for at least another 3 or 4 points. That means Corzine wins.

How did this happen? Christie's campaign made a costly (perhaps fatal) error by elevating his stance on mammograms. Christie's policy allows health insurance companies to drop mammograms from their coverage plans. Corzine made a passing reference to this in one of his ads. For some reason, Christie responded with an entire commercial dedicated to his mother's experience with breast cancer and talking about how despicable Corzine is... yet he did not refute the substance of Corzine's charges. Nor did he back away from his position of dropping coverage for mammograms.

And after a summer of relentless Corzine ads attacking Christie's character, saying he had one set of rules for himself and another for everyone else, it was foolish of the Christie campaign to think that they could defuse this issue by sitting him at a kitchen table and acting indignant. Christie's lack of specificity and stubbornness did nothing but prove his duplicity and inform more people that he sides with insurance companies over New Jersey women.

Christie's mammogram policy has been one of the most prominent issues for the first half of the crucial month of October. Christie is also hurt by the emergence of independent candidate, Chris Daggett, who attracts a small coalition of voters put off by the last four years of Corzine but uncomfortable with Christie. Daggett's rise corresponds with Christie's fall, but a closer look at the numbers shows Christie's approval ratings are dropping while Corzine's are going up. Daggett may be taking his voters, but he's not making Christie less popular. What's doing that is Corzine's contrast of his mammogram policy (reform requiring coverage) against Christie's.

But Corzine could only milk the mammogram issue for so long. Now his ad team is pivoting toward painting Christie as in the pocket of the health insurance industry, which, given his position on mammograms, he clearly is.


Corzine's health care offensive goes to show that there is a new silent majority willing to put other issues aside and vote in favor of reform. And Republicans might scoff at that. 'Oh well, that's just New Jersey. Deep blue, as liberal as they come.'... Uh, wrong. We're talking about re-electing Jon Corzine, here. Jon Friggin' Corzine! The guy was politically dead five weeks ago and if the election were held today, all chances are he'd win. That's saying something.

This race has been state-centric from the start. It remains state-centric. But the mammogram issue at its core could easily be exported around the country. Members of Congress should think long and hard about this. The New Jersey governor's race was truly one for the Republicans to lose. They had the upper-hand on a whole mess of issues. And now they're staring defeat in the face. Because of health care.

Makes you wonder about the accuracy of the Washington consensus that health care reform is a detriment to Democrats in 2010 -- especially when it's re-electing one of their most chronically unpopular governors.

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