By David Cruz
In this tumultuous year of the Trump, the New Jersey primary is actually going to matter. You’d have to go back to 1976 to find a time when a New Jersey primary mattered. Back then the Democratic Party establishment was trying to stop an insurgent peanut farmer turned governor from getting enough delegates for a first-ballot convention win. Jimmy Carter lost New Jersey that year but won the nomination and the presidency. Forty years later, the insurgent is Donald Trump, but new polling suggests he will fare much better here than Carter did.
“Trump is now at 52 percent as a first choice among GOP voters, so this is big for him. This is the first time he’s crossed the 50 percent threshold for us in New Jersey,” noted Ashley Koning, assistant director at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. “He’s been crossing the 50 percent threshold in other places like New York today and in primary polling. People used to think he was at this high 30s to 40 ceiling and now he’s been crossing that 50 percent.”
The Eagleton Center poll shows Trump at 56 percent among Republicans, with John Kasich second at 20 percent and Ted Cruz at 18 percent.
Among Independents who say they’re leaning Republican: Trump is at 45 percent, still 14 points ahead of Kasich and 27 points ahead of Cruz.
Trump is doing so well in New York he’s hardly had to deploy his top supporter, Gov. Chris Christie, which — for better or worse — could change in a couple of weeks. “If he really needs me, I’ll go help him,” Christie said this week. “I suspect I’ll be helping him a lot here as he prepares for the June primary in New Jersey, which, for the first time in my lifetime is going to actually mean something.”
On the other side, among registered Democrats, Hillary Clinton is up almost 20 points against Bernie Sanders, but Independents are 48 percent of the electorate, and — among them — things look a little different. Sanders is at 51 percent, with Clinton at 40 percent.
“Her favorability numbers are getting lower and lower every time we poll,” said Koning. “She used to be actually the complete opposite of what she is now. A year ago, she was in the high 50s, even 60 percent at one point. Hillary Clinton is now at 39 percent favorable; most are unfavorable towards her, and on top of that, the gap is actually lessening between her and Sen. Sanders when it comes to who Democrats in New Jersey want as their nominee.”
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the top elected Sanders surrogate, said the Vermont senator will surprise come primary day.
“We’ve seen he’s won seven of the last eight primaries,” he said. “We’ve seen victories by double digits. His support is growing and people are catching the Bern, so to speak, and I think Sen. Sanders will be successful.”
With the results of the primary actually mattering this year, it’s possible that — come June 7 — you will see a rare New Jersey phenomenon, actual voter participation.