Democrats may be starting to come home in New Jersey's upcoming gubernatorial election, according to a new poll released early Friday. But Republican Gov. Chris Christie still holds a 30-point lead over his all-but-certain Democratic opponent.
State Sen. Barbara Buono has made some inroads against the popular Christie, a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows, cutting into the 42-point lead Christie posted in Feburary. Christie leads 57 percent to 27 percent in the new poll, down from a 63 percent to 21 percent lead in Feburary.
Buono's limited gains appear to come solely from Democrats. She led Christie by just 4 points among members of her own party in Feburary, but she now outpaces him by 18 points among Democrats, 49 percent to 31 percent. Meanwhile, Christie posts 90-percent and 49-percent leads among Republicans and independents, respectively.
Even in a state where fewer than 1 out of every 5 voters is a registered Republican, those numbers are not enough to make Buono competitive with Christie, who performs relatively well among traditional Democratic constituencies.
"While Buono has made some very noticeable gains among her base, many of the voters Democrats usually count on continue to support Christie," said Rutgers University professor David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll. "She can't afford to give Christie a quarter of black voters, a majority of women, and even a third of liberals, as she does right now."
Buono and other Democrats have gone on the offensive against Christie over the past month, hitting him for, among other things, wavering on his opposition to "gay conversion therapy" for minors.
Christie's popularity has taken a slight hit over the past two months. His approval rating fell to a still-overwhelming 68 percent, down from 73 percent in February. And the percentage who view him favorably dropped from 70 percent to 64 percent over the same time.
But Buono remains little-known among Garden State voters. Seven-in-ten do not have an opinion about her, statistically unchanged from the 67 percent who had no opinion in Feburary.
The Rutgers-Eagleton poll was conducted April 3-7, surveying 819 registered voters. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.4 percentage points.