State swings to Bush after debate

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:51

    NEW JERSEY-New Jersey's finicky swing voters apparently have turned again, making a state once thought to be Democrat John Kerry's to win now nearly tied. Democrats here have advantages: They have more money, more registered voters and more organized groups like unions willing to get members to the polls. But nearly half of all registered voters in the state list no political affiliation. And while they have not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972, voters who have backed Democrats for president have just as easily pulled the lever for the GOP in other elections. In past races, independent-minded voters have chosen a Republican for governor, but also given control of the Legislature to Democrats. With recent polls putting Kerry and President Bush almost even, both parties are looking to New Jersey's fickle swing voters for success. Many of those 2.6 million voters who say they have no party affiliation are considered "persuadable voters" _ people ready to vote but not yet sure which candidate will get their support, said political analysts and pollsters. In a September Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers Poll, 13 percent of those surveyed said they had yet to make a choice between Bush or Kerry. Other polls taken in recent weeks show similar numbers. Those voters are using these remaining days before the Nov. 2 election to study the candidates and make a decision, Reed said. The state's independent voters have always been key to elections here, but how they became so critical to this presidential race is still debated by political scientists, pollsters and campaign analysts. Kerry appeared poised to win, and even had a double-digit lead in one poll in July. By the end of September, several polls had Bush and Kerry virtually tied. Some say that shows New Jersey voters support Bush, largely because they are concerned about homeland security and the war on terror. The state lost about 700 people in the Sept. 11 attacks, and has lived through other terror scares. But others suggest that Kerry's troubles might be linked to fellow Democrat Gov. James E. McGreevey, whose approval ratings have been low throughout his term. In a recent Fairleigh Dickinson-PublicMind poll, independent voters who said they disapproved of McGreevey were backing Bush by a 2-1 margin, said Peter J. Wooley, a Fairleigh Dickinson political scientist. Before Monday's deadline, about 4.6 million people were registered to vote in New Jersey. Of those, 1.13 million are registered as Democrats while 865,237 identified themselves as Republicans, according to the New Jersey Division of Elections. The remainder make up the unaffiliated bloc, whose members stretch across all demographic lines.