Cory Booker's Slump: Real but Overrated

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 7 2013 10:53 AM

Cory Booker's Slump: Real but Overrated

94150465
Is this the face of a worried man?

Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

The political conventional wisdom machine has put Cory Booker through the Stations of the Gaffe. A month ago, it was assumed that Booker would win the New Jersey race for U.S. Senate in a walk. Since then he's fallen from a lead in the high double digits to the low ... double digits. His comeuppance has come in local coverage, in Politico ("it’s a chance to test whether Booker has a glass jaw"), in the New York Times, and now in a Chris Cillizza tweet that tells readers just how damning the New York Times story is:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

Advertisement

As one of those easily wooed reporters who met and liked Booker early (in 2006), I'm glad to see him sweat a little for this win. But he's only sweating a little. In the Times, Michael Barbaro quotes Monmouth's pollster saying Booker should be winning by no less than 20 points. In the RCP average of polls, he's leading by 18. In Monmouth, Booker's gone from a 16-point lead in June to a 16-point lead in August to a 13-point lead in October. At this rate, Republican candidate Steve Lonegan will overtake Booker at some point in 2015.

The election is next Wednesday.

Has Booker's lead fallen? Yes. Most coverage of the Booker slump has been proved by a link to the Quinnipiac poll, which showed his lead slipping from the mid-20s to 12 points. That same poll has shown Gov. Chris Christie increasing his lead from the mid-20s to 32 points over poor state Sen. Barbara Buono. It obscured the fact that most polls also show Christie slipping while still winning. In Monmouth, for example, Christie's gone from 42 points up (February) to 30 points up (June) to 19 points up (September).* There is no coverage of a shambling, stumbling Christie campaign, because the partisan model is reasserting itself, and he's doing what was always likely—winning a massive victory that falls short of the 70-30 landslide Tom Kean won in 1985, when the state was less Democratic generally.

So is the Booker slump real? Read my headline again! Booker's campaign was faced with the choice of defining Lonegan early or blitzing late, and the choice of keeping the candidate on the trail constantly or letting him raise funds out of the state. These were tough choices. Lonegan's probably the most conservative candidate for statewide office in New Jersey since 2001 (he opposed, on live TV, the Hurricane Sandy relief package), but history is full of losing campaigns that erred by attacking their opponents early and raising their name ID ineffectively. Booker has to run again in November 2014—did he want to win a smaller victory with a massive war chest, or a larger one with a depleted war chest?

This looks like a campaign that's largely followed its strategy while suffering very minor setbacks from 1) the candidate talking himself into two-day "scandals," like the ridiculous nonsexual DM with a Portland stripper, and 2) the press acting unexpectedly like the press. It's giving Booker his first-ever tough scrutiny, while generally portraying the Republican candidate as a scrappy underdog instead of a well-connected conservative activist with Americans for Prosperity.

UPDATE: Oh, I ignored the hook of that A1 NYT story—Mike Bloomberg is spending $1 million to help Booker in the stretch. It's billed as Bloomberg's largest donation to a campaign, though his Mayors Against Illegal Guns spent $2 million to boost Democrat Robin Kelly in a primary for a safe Democratic seat. That donation was always overrated; the pro-gun Democrat crushed in the primary had previously been crushed by Jesse Jackson Jr. when his scandal was already known.

*Correction, Oct. 7, 2013: This post originally misstated Chris Christie's lead over Barbara Buono in a June Monmouth poll. He led her by 30 points at the time, not 32.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Gives Fetuses Lawyers and Puts Teenage Girls on Trial

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Big Problems With the Secret Service Were Reported Last Year. Nobody Cared.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 12:58 PM Why Can’t States Do More to Protect Patients From Surprise Medical Bills? It’s complicated.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 2 2014 1:05 PM What's Wrong With "America's Ugliest Accent"
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 2 2014 12:37 PM St. Louis Study Confirms That IUDs Are the Key to Lowering Teen Pregnancy Rates
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 1:29 PM Want to Know What Makes David Fincher Great? Focus on What He Doesn’t Do.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 1:22 PM If Someone Secretly Controlled What You Say, Would You Notice? What cyranoid experiments reveal about how people act.  
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 2 2014 12:53 PM The Panic Virus How public health officials are keeping Americans calm about the Ebola threat.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?