IT'S THE BOTTOM of the ninth inning, the fourth quarter and sudden death all rolled into one for New Jersey voters as the decision on who will be governor looms just days away.
Those voters, barraged by negative ads from all sides, burdened with the country's highest property taxes and burned by elected officials who break the law, will be getting dozens of pep talks this weekend as all three candidates try to solidify their base and pull some swing voters their way before Election Day on Tuesday.
And morale is low.
"Our taxes won't go down no matter who's in office," said Robert "Donkey" Lucas, tending bar at Donkey's Place, a Camden institution for more than 60 years.
Sitting across the bar from Lucas, Robert Burnham, a "truly middle-class citizen," said incumbent Jon S. Corzine has done "all right" so far.
"I don't know too much about this Christie guy," said Burnham, a boilermaker, referring to Republican candidate Christopher J. Christie.
Political analysts say the biggest issue is whether traditional Democrats, some less than thrilled by Corzine's first term, will shed the malaise and turn out in full force to support him.
"The whole election is really going to hinge on the Democrat party's mobilization effort," said Richard Harris, director of the Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers-Camden. "If they can mobilize their voters to turn out, they should be OK."
In New Jersey, there are about 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, with a powerful 2.4 million unaffiliated with any party.
Christie, a former U.S. Attorney, has a smaller but more energized base at the moment, said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, and there's no doubt his supporters will be in the polling booths bright and early Tuesday.
"It really comes down to an approach to politics," Dworkin said. "Which do you think is more important, the side that has a lot more voters but are less enthused or the side that has less voters and are more enthused?"
Corzine spokeswoman Lis Smith said the governor and lieutenant governor candidate Loretta Weinberg have "all of the momentum going into the final days of the campaign."
"People across New Jersey recognize that Gov. Corzine is fighting for what matters most to New Jersey families - getting health coverage for over 100,000 more kids, strongly supporting a woman's right to choose, and passing paid family leave that allows workers to care for their loved ones," Smith said yesterday.
The Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind Poll, out yesterday, found that the race is too close to call.
When asked only about major-party candidates, Corzine was favored by 44 percent of likely voters with Christie at 43 percent. Six percent volunteered that they supported Independent Chris Daggett, with 4 percent undecided.
When a smaller group of voters was asked about all three candidates, Christie got 41 percent, Corzine 39 and Daggett 14 percent with 6 percent undecided.
Corzine, as he did in previous elections, is spending New York Yankee-like money on his campaign, peppering his opponent with negative ads throughout the New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia television markets.
Corzine has also had a formidable Democratic lineup going to bat for him throughout the state. Tomorrow, President Obama will make his third appearance for Corzine at rallies in Camden and Newark. Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore have also stumped for him.
After losing early dominance in other polls, the Christie campaign is embracing a blue-collar, underdog role for their man.
"Corzine himself has really never been in a race where he didn't outspend, with the wind at his back and a huge registration advantage," said senior Christie adviser Mike DuHaime.
State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Middletown, used Corzine's spending to illustrate a point the campaign has tried to drive home: That Jon Corzine doesn't feel New Jersey's pain.
"This is a person who doesn't live like us," Kyrillos said. "This guy has so much wealth."
DuHaime said Obama's visits to New Jersey mean nothing for the future of New Jersey.
"He's not going to move to Trenton and help run the state for the next four years," he said.
Mark Magyar, Daggett's policy director, said their campaign was sticking with a famous quote from the late Tug McGraw, a relief pitcher with the Phillies and, before that, the New York Mets.
" 'Ya gotta believe,' " Magyar said. "We figured since McGraw also played with the Phillies, we're covering all our bases here."
Daggett's role in the election, Magyar said, has made for a "complex dance" among voters, analysts and the two leading candidates themselves, but he insists that an independent vote is not wasted.
"I think if the voters go into the booths, and vote for who they know is the best candidate, we'll come out on top," Magyar said.