Salena Zito

Deep-Democrat-blue New Jersey is on a direct course to go Republican-red this fall, and it does not look like even Obama-esque hope and change can stop that.

To the middle-right (the only way New Jersey can reasonably go red) is former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. To his left is Gov. Jon Corzine, running in one of two (Virginia is the other) off-year gubernatorial elections.

RealClearPolitics’ average of recent polling shows a 51-39 lead for Christie. For an incumbent, being not only behind, but far under 50 percent, is deadly. Just ask Pennsylvania’s former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican whose numbers in a 2006 race against now-U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. mirror Corzine's today.

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One highly respected national pollster for the Democrats says he doesn't like the tea leaves he sees in this race, admitting privately that "this may be over" for Corzine.

"Corzine has been around the block,” with two U.S. Senate terms and one as governor, so “his Republican challenger may be able to look like a plausible alternative" to tired voters, says political scientist Bert Rockman.

Corzine was not helped when 44 mayors, state lawmakers and miscellaneous public officials – many of them Democrats – were arrested as part of a bizarre live-organ, Gucci-handbag racketeering ring.

Last week, Corzine, feeling boxed-in by his own personality flaws and lack of traction, played the "Bush card" – with an ad tying his opponent to the former president.

In last year’s hope-and-change cycle, that would have been a big hit. This year, not so much.

The narrative in this race is all about Corzine and the Democrats’ brand, not whether or not Christie liked George Bush, or even Christie's record.

Overall, this is a bad time to be an incumbent governor. Corzine's mistakes over several years – such as paying off his ex-girlfriend (the New York Times reported the number as $6 million) – and his more-than-the-legal-limit of personal hubris, only add to his problems.

In fairness, Corzine did inherit structural budget problems created by his predecessor, a difficult task to deal with in a good economy but horrendous to face during a major economic downturn.

Undecided voters tend to swing toward a challenger. The one thing that will keep people guessing in this state is that, in several past elections, undecided voters have swung to the Democrats.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.