TRENTON, N.J. — Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno spent her final weekend campaigning in New Jersey’s governor’s race on a bus tour, with two former Republican governors praising her as the best candidate.
Gov. Chris Christie, the man she spent the last eight years running New Jersey’s government with, was nowhere to be seen.
Guadagno has done whatever she could to create distance from a Republican colleague whose popularity has hovered in the teens and low 20s for the last year as voters have tired of his “tell-it-like-it-is” style and in the aftermath of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.
With Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy spending millions to air ads highlighting the “Chrisite-Guadagno years,” Guadagno has struggled to get Democratic and independent voters to instead focus on her main campaign issues, including addressing property taxes.
“She’s got the worst of both worlds,” said former Democratic Gov. Jim Florio. “The alignment with the (Christie) administration is inevitable. The overall impression of the administration is it’s not good.”
In one recent Quinnipiac University poll, about half the respondents said Guadagno’s service as Christie’s top deputy was a negative factor for them. The poll surveyed 1,049 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 points.
Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and Obama administration ambassador to Germany, has double-digit leads in surveys and a 5-to-1 cash advantage late in the contest.
Christie swept to national fame after he was elected in 2009 as a plainspoken, charismatic reformer who went on late-night TV and made dad jokes at his own expense. He and Guadagno won re-election in 2013 by a wide margin, but the bridge scandal — originally launched as a revenge plot against a Democratic mayor who wouldn’t endorse him in 2013 — changed things.
Voters also were upset with Christie at the amount of time he spent out of the state during his failed 2016 presidential campaign.
In trying to escape his shadow, Guadagno hasn’t hesitated to pile on, comparing Christie’s $300 million plan to renovate the statehouse to the Palace of Versailles, mocking his use of a state police helicopter and opposing a gas tax he signed as part of transportation deal.
“Anybody who knows me knows I’m not Chris Christie,” Guadagno said.
Christie himself has kept a mostly low profile, saying that he hasn’t been asked to campaign by Guadagno. Guadagno, the state’s first lieutenant governor, says simply that she’s on the ballot, not Christie.
She adds that she has disagreed a lot with Christie, but privately, which she says is the proper avenue for a deputy.
Her candidacy has mostly focused on how to reduce property taxes and on banning sanctuary cities, but it comes as President Donald Trump’s administration makes national headlines daily.
The one-two punch of Christie and Trump’s low levels of support in Democrat-leaning New Jersey could prove decisive. Democrats have 880,000 more registered voters than Republicans.
“I think the electoral lines have really been drawn not by the candidates but by the incumbents, by Chris Christie who’s himself very unpopular and by President Trump who is also deeply unpopular in New Jersey,” said Fairleigh Dickinson University political science Professor Peter Woolley.
Not everyone views the race through the Christie-Trump lens.
Former GOP Gov. Tom Kean Sr., who campaigned with Guadagno this weekend along with former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, said the public should get more credit for actually examining the candidates and the issues in the race, not just how they compare to Christie or Trump.
“People are smarter than that,” he said. “If they’re paying attention, they look at the candidates.”