Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Garden State

New Jersey is one of two states that will elect a governor this year (the other one is Virginia).

A few states have two major cities (or pairs of cities) that dominate the state, and define two major media markets in which candidates must buy broadcast time. Here in Pennsylvania, there are Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In Texas, the cities are Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston. And in California, Los Angeles and San Francisco/Oakland.

That's also true of New Jersey but, in its case, the difference is that the two major cities are outside of the state. Those cities are New York and Philadelphia. Suburbs of those two cities make up a large part of New Jersey's population (the total population is 8,682,661, the 11th highest total in the U.S.) Newark, the state's most populous city, has only 280,666 residents.

19 of the top 20 states have at least one city with a population over 400,000. New Jersey is, of course, the exception.

Two implications, one more on the practical side, the other a bit less tangible:

1. New Jersey candidates need to buy air time in two large, expensive, media markets. Historically, much of that spending was wasted, in that it reached eyes and ears in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. During my own 22 years in Pennsylvania, I have been politically courted, via television and radio, by countless New Jersey candidates for whom I could not have voted, even if I had wanted to. And, judging my the almost uniformly negative (i.e., saying bad things about the opponent, rather than good things about the candidate buying the time) nature of those ads, I probably would not want to do so.

In this age of cable TV, and similar technologies, the media buys can be targeted more precisely. But a lot of the money is still wasted.

2. The state has trouble establishing a geographic identity, separate from those of the Philadelphia and New York metropolitan areas. The often misattributed and misunderstood quotation "there is no there there", could have referred to New Jersey. (It did not; Gertrude Stein said it about Oakland, California.)

According to this New York Times report earlier this year, that has had an effect on New Jersey's incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine.

The official gubernatorial residence is the marvelously-named Drumthwacket, in Princeton, in Central Jersey. But Corzine's personal home is in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. According to that Times article, the former Wall Street magnate is seen in New York a bit too often, in the opinion of some New Jersey voters.

As is the case with other northeastern states, New Jersey has been trending more toward the Democratic Party in recent years. But Corzine's personal popularity has lagged behind that of his party. That has given hope to the two main contenders in next Tuesday's Republican primary. More about that, later.

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