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Lonegan, Christie stump for votes

June 1, 2009 4:43:16 PM PDT
Steve Lonegan greeted train commuters in the Democratic stronghold of Hoboken on Monday morning, while Chris Christie, his rival for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, staked out diners in Parsippany and Westfield. The Republicans who are running for governor in New Jersey spent the day before Tuesday's primary traveling around the state in a hunt for last-minute votes. Assemblyman Rick Merkt, running a distant third, also sprinted toward the finish Monday.

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"Look at the people here today - my volunteers out here at six o'clock in the morning working hard," Lonegan said outside the Hoboken rail station as those volunteers tried handing out copies of "New Jersey Republican News" to mostly uninterested commuters. "That's what I have that the other guy doesn't have."

Christie was optimistic - but not overly confident - that votes would swing his way despite maintaining a comfortable lead in polls.

"We just can't take anything for granted. That's why we're out here today," Christie told supporters at his first diner stop of the day, the Empire Diner in Parsippany.

"I've been in a lot of primaries. I've been on the winning end in some tough ones and the losing end in some tough ones, and I think you don't know what's going to happen until people start to vote."

The winner of Tuesday's GOP primary will face Gov. Jon S.

Corzine, the incumbent Democrat, in November. Corzine's approval ratings have plummeted amid the worst state budget crisis in memory.

A fraction of New Jersey voters could decide which Republican challenges Corzine. Primaries rarely attract much voter participation, and there are no indications this one will be different.

In 2005, turnout was a little under 580,000 - or 12 percent of all registered voters.

Donna Bilette, 45, a waitress at Westfield Diner, said Christie would be her choice based on his track record as U.S. attorney during the George W. Bush administration.

"He did what he said he was going to do as far as corruption is concerned," she said.

Taxes are also a consideration for the unaffiliated voter, and she believes Christie will keep them lower.

"Anything that comes out of your pocketbook affects your decision," said Bilette.

Elizabeth Johanson, a registered Republican, also met Christie at the Westfield Diner and said she'll likely vote for him Tuesday - chiefly because she didn't know who else was in the race.

"I really don't know about the other fellow that's running against him. I can't even tell you his name," she said with a chuckle.

Lonegan, 53, ran unsuccessfully for governor four years ago. His support comes mainly from very conservative voters. Christie, 46, is backed by New Jersey's moderate GOP establishment, who believe he is the only Republican with a chance to beat the wealthy governor.

The campaign has been typically Jersey, a rough-and-tumble affair of personal and policy attacks. Christie has been pushed to the right on social issues in an effort to appeal to the party's conservative base while Lonegan has been forced to acknowledge that his flat-tax plan would raise taxes for the poorest New Jerseyans.


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