New Jersey's off-year gubernatorial race has been pretty boring for outsiders, except for maybe the TV ad accusing Chris Christie, the Republican nominee, of "throwing his weight around." (Christie's on the heavy side.)
The ad was supposed to draw attention to the fact that Christie got away with some pretty obscene driving offenses, but really, no one cares about that stuff. New Jersey's race isn't about driving, it isn't about corruption, it isn't about President Obama -- it's about the state economy and taxes. The inability of Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, to find his footing on the economy has made him deeply unpopular for a long, long time. Pundits believe he's a surefire loser.
So do national Republicans. According to U.S. News & World Report, GOP strategists in Washington will milk a Corzine loss for all its worth, trying to delay the vote on health care reform in order to "[scare] moderate Democrats away from the Obama plan as they worry about their own re-election in 2010."
But like a lot of other outsiders, the Republicans in Washington haven't been watching this race closely enough.
If they had been, they'd know that the Christie camp is deeply concerned about the health care debate hurting their candidate. A little more than a week ago, while the rest of the country was buzzing about the 'Look At That Fat Guy' ad, Corzine also started airing a TV spot informing voters that Christie supports health insurance companies who deny coverage for mammograms.
The ad must have hurt in the Republicans' polling, because in no time at all, Christie -- long the frontrunner in this race -- was forced to play defense.
In light of Christie's response, the Star-Ledger says Corzine's ad "happens to be true."
Final word on this? No way. Christie, when questioned by a cancer survivor, was emphatic when explaining why insurance companies should deny mammograms to young women. The cancer survivor tells him that in fact she had been diagnosed with cancer in her twenties. To that, Christie continues to defend the health insurance companies -- and even gets nasty and dismissive with the woman -- insisting that dropping mammograms is A-OK because "that's an exception."
This is Christie's 'macaca moment,' unleashing his nasty side to show people what Republicans really think about providing all Americans with decent, quality health care. He's saying that insured or not -- if you're a young woman who wants a mammogram, a health insurance company shouldn't have to pay because "that's an exception."
Christie's nasty attitude and dismissive tone toward the cancer survivor only makes it worse for him. In July, I wrote that Republicans were endangering Christie -- perhaps their only rising star in the Northeast -- by stalling the health care reform vote and carrying the debate into October. That was before the rancor and lies of August. New Jersey is still a very blue state, with many more Democratic-leaning independents than Republican ones. The GOP's angry rhetoric toward the President and his efforts to reform the health care system do not endear Republicans to these voters -- voters Christie needs to win this election.
Now Christie is on film, getting short with someone for daring to question the whims of the health care industry. He's going to have a tough time not looking like just another anti-reform Republican, disdainful for the economic concerns of average citizens just trying to stay healthy.
If Corzine plays his cards right, Christie will have a hell of a time keeping voters focused on the issues he wants. Christie will win this race if GOP opposition to health care reform doesn't become the leading issue; he may even win it if it does. But if Republicans in Washington believe they can continue their antics without paying the price for it, they may soon think again.