Gov. Chris Christie is more popular than ever, but no one, including him, expects Republicans to take control of the New Jersey Legislature in the November elections.
The GOP governor, whose job approval rating was at 55 percent or higher in two recent polls, has been downplaying the likelihood that he could help sweep out enough Democrats in either the state Senate or Assembly for Republicans to take control. Few potential upsets are seen.
"Let's remember, we're operating under a Democratic map," Christie said of the newly redrawn legislative district map, which protected incumbents of both parties, the majority of whom are Democrats. "If we were to take back majorities this fall, that would definitely represent a tsunami."
Political scientists agree it would be a longshot for the GOP to wrest control from Democrats — even with someone like Christie, who was courted for a 2012 presidential bid but declined to run, at the helm. Democrats hold a 24-16 advantage in the Senate, and a 45-32 edge in the Assembly with three open seats.
Christie said Republican efforts would be focused on thinning Democrats' margin of control. Many believe this is a mere lead-up to 2013 when Christie will be on the ballot.
In the Senate, Democrat-held seats in District 2, which includes Atlantic City, and District 38, which includes Paramus, where Christie appeared on Wednesday, are seen as battlegrounds. In the Assembly, pundits from both sides said seats in Districts 2 and 38 are in play, with possible races in District 4, which includes Washington Township in Gloucester County, and District 7, which includes Mount Laurel, where Christie was on Thursday.
"I'm going to do the best I can, but I've always said that gaining a Republican majority back in the Legislature is a process," Christie said.
He didn't specify how much money he was willing to spend on the election and how much he was prepared to bank for 2013.
All 120 seats in the Legislature are up for grabs on Nov. 8.
"Absolutely not," pollster Patrick Murray said when asked if the upcoming election would be a referendum on Christie. "This is a district-by-district race. Anywhere there will be some competition, it will be focused on issues particular to that area."
For example, in District 2, the local issue is Atlantic City and its new tourism district, he said.
Nevertheless, Christie is sure to wield some influence over the election as the popular, nationally recognized leader of his party.
For example, he just raised more than $500,000 for the state Republican Party during a fundraising swing to Missouri and California.
As for his popularity, Christie earned a 55 percent approval rating this month in a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll and a 58 percent approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll — his highest marks since taking office.
However, because his name won't be on the ballot, his influence won't be outsized this year, said GOP Sen. Kevin O'Toole of Wayne, a Christie ally in the Legislature.
A Rutgers/Eagleton poll taken this month found that 54 percent of respondents said their votes would reflect their views of the governor. But, with 28 percent in support and 26 opposed to Christie, those votes would cancel each other out. Some 42 percent said their vote would be independent of their thoughts about the governor.
Christie summed it up this way:
"In the end, I don't think these Legislative elections are a referendum on (President) Barack Obama or on me. I think they are a referendum on each one of these individual candidates in these individual districts."