The country has an election upcoming; here in New Jersey, though, we have two--the special Senate election next week, in which celebrity Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker is expected to trounce conservative Republican former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, and the governor's race in a month, in which nationally popular Republican Governor Chris Christie is expected to rout State Senator and former State Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono--and those of us who report New Jersey politics encounter innumerable polls and articles predicting the outcomes of these seemingly predestined races.
Among them, this writer found an extended article reporting the plight of the underdog, spending time presenting one of those overmatched candidates. Bare mention was made of the other race, perhaps forgivable from the perspective that the writer had invested time in getting to know the one candidate, but suggesting that the discussion was a thinly veiled effort to promote this candidate. Buono and Lonegan are both underdogs here, and we could marshal the modern statistics--their very low Twitter follower numbers as compared with the vastly greater numbers of their opponents, their low financial support and low name recognition. Singling out either for sympathy because of being an underdog cuts both ways--and the more so, because these two candidates, one Republican and one Democratic, have something else in common that keeps their support low. They are viewed by voters as extremists.
It is easy to see with Lonegan. He is a Tea Party favorite, opposed to everything from abortion to Obamacare to normalization of homosexuality. He was very successful in balancing Bogota's budget, but made a lot of enemies among the unions for blocking spending they wanted. He will tell you without embarrassment that the Republican party is losing because it is moving too far to the left, failing to stand for what he views as the position of the majority of Americans. He knows he is far to the right, believes that that is where most of us fall.
It is tougher to see with Buono, not because she is not strongly supportive of left wing causes, but because she does not realize how extreme she actually is. She speaks of abortion as if all women believed it was an ordinary aspect of women's health care (women are the leaders in the pro-life movement), of homosexual relationships as if all of us consider such matters perfectly normal and think that the notion of marriage as a heterosexual relationship intended to produce families an antiquated one. Her running mate is a union boss representing public employees. She has been called the "most partisan" member of the New Jersey State Senate, and that by a governor who is viewed as moderate.
Most of us believe our own opinions to be sane and centrist, that most reasonable people hold the same views we hold. Buono and Lonegan are not exceptions to this. However, despite the pundit's view of New Jersey as a firmly Democratic state, there are significant swaths of our population that are strongly Republican, and our large cadre of independents much prefers the appearance of moderation in our candidates, especially those running in a state-wide race. Never mind that Cory Booker probably stands for nearly every liberal position as Barbara Buono, speaking at the LGBT rally in Washington, his relatively conservative fiscal policies applied in Newark to pull the city back from ruin along with his opposition to policies favored by the teachers' union have given him the appearance of moderation and the edge over Lonegan. Never mind that Chris Christie holds positions very similar to Steve Lonegan on abortion, homosexual marriage, gun control, and a wealth of other issues, his ability to compromise, to work with Democrats from the state legislature to the President of the United States, makes him appear centrist, moderate, and gives him the edge over Buono.
Thus at least this year the underdogs are that way because they are perceived as extremists in their own parties. They might win votes from their base that way, but it is unlikely they will be able to capture the independent vote without either redefining themselves as also moderate or persuading a very large number of people to embrace more partisan positions in a very short time.