Will New Jersey Elect a Pro-Life Catholic Governor?

Deal W. Hudson
April 27, 2009

As of a few days ago, a pro-life Catholic held the lead in the New Jersey governor’s race. Chris Christie has been steadily polling ahead of the current Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, and the other Republican candidate for the nomination.

Christie’s eleven point lead over Corzine, and 25 point lead over his closest GOP challenger, is remarkable in the post-Obama political climate when pro-life candidates, like Christie, are supposed to be a pass�.

The 47-year old Christie, viewed as a moderate candidate, has been married for 23 years to his wife, Mary Pat; they have four children, two boys, and two girls, ages 5 to 15. In New Jersey 42 percent of voters are Catholic, but the Republicans haven’t nominated a Catholic for governor since 1973.

Whether New Jersey Catholics will rally around a candidate like Christie remains to be seen. The last Catholic governor of New Jersey was James E. McGreevey who received a majority of the Catholic vote in spite of policy positions that were mostly antithetical to the Church. McGreevey beat a candidate, Brent Schundler, who was pro-life and socially conservative, but Protestant in a largely Catholic state. When a New Jersey columnist asked McGreevey to comment on the fact that his politics were out of line with most Irish Catholic voters, “McGreevey laughed the question off.”

You might assume from the reputation and recent history of New Jersey politics that there must be something questionable about Christie’s pro-life position that explains his present popularity. His GOP opponent, Steve Lonergan, in fact, has tried to label him “pro-choice,” but Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) has given Christie his “seal of approval,” which for movement pro-lifers will be the end of the argument.

Christie was nominated in 2001 by George W. Bush as the U.S. attorney general for the District of New Jersey and took office in January 2002. During his six years in office, he gained the reputation as something of a corruption-buster, having won convictions or guilty pleas from 130 public officials, both Republican and Democrat. Christie did not lose a single case.

One example of his successful prosecution was that of Sharpe James, the former mayor of Newark. James was found guilty of conspiring to sell nine city properties to his mistress, Tamika Riley, who resold them for hundreds of thousands in profit.

After the verdict, Gov. Corzine, a political ally of James, commented, “It’s unfortunate for the citizens of Newark;” adding, “I find it sad that any of the good work produced by Mayor James will get lost or overshadowed by his conviction.”

Corzine is vulnerable, in part, because he is viewed as someone who has been associated with various scandals – others and his own – during the entirety of his tenure as governor. Another vulnerability stems from his position on life issues. Corzine made headlines a few months ago when New Jersey filed a lawsuit to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. New Jersey Catholics voted it should be noted, for McCain over Obama, 55 percent to 45 percent.

As one of his leading supporters told me, “Christie is not a fire-breather, but a center-right guy who has the vision and guts to beat Corzine and the Democrats this November.” The election of Chris Christie would put a sudden end to all the talk about the need for Republicans to distance themselves from their pro-life constituencies.

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