Despite GOP leaders, Pa. and N.J. tend toward blue in presidential races

Even though New Jersey and Pennsylvania have Republican governors, polls show GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney trailing President Barack Obama in both states.

The latest Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday shows Obama leading Romney by four points in Pennsylvania, while the gap is wider in New Jersey.

In addition to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania has a conservative Republican U.S. senator and both houses of the Legislature are controlled by the GOP. But it still looks blue. 

What gives?

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“It seems that a substantial number of the people who don’t turn out in governors’ elections are Democrats — a more substantial chunk than the chunk that is Republicans,” says Michael Hagen, an associate professor of political science at Temple University.

“There is a general pattern that Democrats are somewhat harder to turn out. Republicans are somewhat more reliable to turn out.”

Turnout is indeed the key, says Lara Brown, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University.”It has to do with turnout. Both of these individuals — Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Tom Corbett were elected in Corbett’s case, a midterm election, in Christie’s case, an off-year election,” Brown says. “And that essentially means that you don’t have the same enthusiasm or excitement or engagement by voters. And you don’t end up with the same turnout level.”

Brown said many voters who will show up to vote in a presidential election stay home when the top race is governor or senator.

Steady N.J. support for Obama

In New Jersey, Obama has maintained an 8 percent edge over Romney, according to the Quinnipiac poll.

That’s barely a change from before the debate.

Quinnipiac polling director Mickey Carroll says the result was not surprising.

“It was a Romney victory, but it wasn’t a blowout, for goodness sakes,” he said. “So Romney, at least in New Jersey, is not closing the gap. He’s right where he was. Not overwhelming — eight points, that’s not a lot, but it’s seven points more than you need to win.”

Meanwhile, neither Romney nor Obama has purchased TV ad time in Pennsylvania in weeks. Given the state’s Democratic track record in presidential elections, combined with the pricey Philadelphia media market, that’s not surprising to many observers. A Republican presidential candidate hasn’t carried Pennsylvania since 1988.

Brown said the candidates may throw the Keystone State a little more attention in the remaining weeks.

“I think they may send their vice presidents, but I don’t see a substantial dollar change,” she said. “They are fighting in a number of battleground that are actually closer than Pennsylvania, so I would imagine that they would continue to focus on Ohio, Colorado. Because at the end of the day those state are more likely to tip one way or another and are more likely to be influenced with the campaign visits and campaign attention.”

Brown said Pennsylvania’s tightening poll numbers are an indicator of how close the race is nationally.

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