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In a statewide poll, more than six in 10 registered voters say New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, shown answering a question in Trenton, N.J., on Jan. 17, should be re-elected. / Mel Evans, AP

ASBURY PARK, N.J. -- More than six in 10 registered New Jersey voters say Gov. Chris Christie should be re-elected, according to results of the latest Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll released Tuesday.

For likely Democratic challenger Sen. Barbara Buono, that's an even more daunting number than the 62 percent to 20 percent lead Christie holds in a head-to-head matchup or the finding that 78 percent of voters don't know her well enough to form an opinion, said Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray.

"The race is definitely not over, but the difficulties are there," Murray said. "It's certainly not going to be a 40-point race by any stretch of the imagination. But the potential is there for it to be a 20-point race, unless Barbara Buono can figure out how to chip away at Chris Christie."

Christie's ratings among voters improved after his handling of Superstorm Sandy and have continued drifting higher, rather than return to prestorm levels. Seventy percent of registered voters said they approve of Christie's job performance, with just 16 percent disapproving. Sixty-three percent said he should be re-elected, up by 2 points since December and 13 points since September.

"I like our governor very much. I would re-elect him again from what I know he is doing. I would like him to reinstate freezing property taxes for people over 62 though. That went away two or three years ago," said Mary Shipers, 94, of East Brunswick.

Dan Conley, 54, of Franklin said: "I think the best thing that could happen is for him to be re-elected. I hope he gets a bit healthier and slims down, but he looks good for the duration.

"He is more structured and disciplined than any other political leader. He works for the benefit of the people and not for the political party. I am a strict independent with no political affiliation whatsoever. I like his persona and the like ? his personality."

Among Christie converts is Theresa Lyons of Middletown. Lyons likes how Christie responded to Sandy and intends to support his re-election -- even though she typically doesn't vote in years when there is no presidential election.

"Gov. Christie's doing a good job. He's very into New Jersey. I think he's here for the people. I think he can understand us, especially, say, the lower middle-class. He gets it," Lyons said. "The hurricane, he's trying to do what he can with that. I live right by the Shore. We got a beating here."

Christie, however, has lost the support of Alvin Williams of Vineland, an unemployed construction worker who backed the Republican in 2009 but thinks he has fumbled his handling of the economy. New Jersey's unemployment rate is 9.6 percent and far higher among the construction trades.

"It's poor, because there's nobody helping the middle class," Williams said of Christie's performance. "Our taxes are going sky-high. Unemployment is high. All of the jobs are up in North Jersey. I went from union hall to union hall, and there's no work in South Jersey."

In that hypothetical head-to-head matchup, Buono was ahead of Christie by just 42 percent to 35 percent among Democrats.

The poll suggests Buono could gain traction if she can focus on the race on the economy. Eighty-eight percent of people say jobs will be very important to their vote for governor. Property taxes ranked next highest, at 78 percent. Schools, storm recovery and gun control are also important at least two-thirds of registered voters.

But that wouldn't be enough, in and of itself, to recast the race. Murray said 7 percent of voters feel Christie should be re-elected, were dissatisfied with his veto of an increase in the minimum wage, back a November referendum to increase that wage through a constitutional amendment and say the issue is important in their vote. If she captures all those voters, Christie would still be well above 50 percent.

"What we're finding is a lot of people can cast a vote in the governor's race and totally disconnect that from the vote they might cast on a ballot initiative for raising the minimum wage," he said. "At the end of the day, very few people who are voting for Chris Christie say that's important to them in their vote."

The minimum wage ballot question was supported by 66 percent of registered voters and opposed by 14 percent.

The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from Feb. 6 through 10, with a statewide random sample of 803 adult residents.

The registered voter sample was weighted to reflect an electorate in which 40 percent are independents, 37 percent Democrats and 23 percent Republicans. The margin of error among registered voters is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

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(Contributing: (East Brunswick, N.J.) Home News Tribune reporter Cheryl Makin)



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Majority of N.J. voters favor Christie re-election

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