An independent candidate stressing New Jersey's economic woes is attracting surprising voter support in the governor's race, which features an unpopular Democratic incumbent and a Republican challenger with ties to former President George W. Bush.
The independent, Chris Daggett, is a former federal environmental official who is not expected to win Tuesday's election for governor in New Jersey, which backed President Barack Obama in 2008, but he could affect who does.
Daggett said at a campaign appearance this week he has found unhappy voters across New Jersey, the nation's most densely populated state.
It's a lousy economy. It's a stimulus package that hasn't stimulated. It is jobs that are lost. It is homes foreclosed, Daggett told Reuters. It's all added up to this anger that is really widespread and, I think, national in scope.
Governor Jon Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs chief executive, is running for a second term and only last week pulled ahead in polls against Republican Chris Christie, a former U.S. Attorney appointed by Bush.
In his third campaign visit to New Jersey on Corzine's behalf, Obama talked on Sunday about the importance of creating more jobs as the U.S. economy begins to turn around.
He told a crowd of about 5,000 people in Camden that Corzine was not going to rest until not only is Wall Street doing well, but Main Street is doing well, and businesses are hiring again.
We are two days away ... from making sure that New Jersey has the kind of quality leadership it deserves, Obama said.
He sought to defend Corzine's record by telling the crowd that Bush and his Republican allies in Congress were to blame for the nationwide recession.
Listening to Jon's opponent, you would think that New Jersey was the only state that's having a tough time right now, Obama said. He doesn't seem to mention that we're coming out of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. And guess what, that crisis didn't start under Jon's watch.
A Monmouth University/Gannett poll showed Christie edging out Corzine, 43 percent to 42 percent, while Doggett's support dwindled to 8 percent.
Even though Daggett's support appeared to have declined since he polled a high of 20 percent, it is seen as draining votes mainly from the Republican side.
As an independent, Daggett doesn't have some of the baggage that being a Democrat or being a Republican has, said Joseph Marbach, a political science professor and dean of New Jersey's Seton Hall University.
On the national level you have sharp and divided partisanship, particularly over stimulus issues or healthcare issues and now foreign affairs, he said. Daggett represents a change from that.
Independents seldom poll as well as Daggett has, said Douglas Muzzio, a public affairs professor at Baruch College in New York. He's tapped into some anger, some fear, some distrust, but overall a dissatisfaction with the incumbent and his Republican challenger.
A Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters from Oct. 20-26 showed Corzine leading Christie at 43 to 38 percent, with Daggett at 13 percent. The poll of 1,267 likely voters had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
The negative campaign has seen candidates trading barbs. In one ad, Corzine even poked fun at Christie's weight.
What the race is not, however, is a referendum on the Obama administration, observers said.
Instead it is centered on local issues, namely property taxes, and on Corzine's record, none of which reflects what Obama is doing on the national stage, they said.
There is only one issue in New Jersey, and has been for years, and that is real estate taxes, said Maurice Carroll, a pollster at Quinnipiac University. This is not a referendum on Obama.