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Garden State is GOP flytrap

Few would confuse the Garden State with the Garden of Eden. But for Republicans once again coveting an elusive victory in New Jersey, the state must seem as tantalizing as Adam and Eve’s Babylonian paradise. Alas, a GOP win in Jersey is as unattainable as Adam’s re-entry into the Garden. And like some of Eve’s progeny, Republicans appear doomed to wander in the wilderness outside utopia’s gates, branded with the Mark of Kean.

Yet time and time again, Republicans are seduced by tantalizing poll numbers into spending big money to lose yet another election in New Jersey, an expensive state covered by the No. 1 and No. 4 media markets — New York and Philadelphia, respectively.

In June 2000, a Quinnipiac University poll in New Jersey had Al Gore defeating George W. Bush by a narrow 45-40 margin. A Mason-Dixon poll during the same time period gave Gore an even narrower 42-40 margin. Gannett had Bush leading 35-34.

Of course, Gore ended up winning by 15 points, 56-41.

In June 2004, John Kerry enjoyed a solid lead in Jersey polls, but those narrowed in subsequent months, and by September, surveys consistently showed a tied race. Excited Republicans dreamed of victory, but by the time the votes were counted, Kerry had won by a relatively comfortable seven-point victory.

In 2005, polls showed a single-digit gubernatorial race between Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine and Republican Doug Forrester. Corzine ultimately triumphed by over 10 points.

But in 2006, GOP hopes rose once again. Polling suggested a neck-and-neck race in the Senate race between Republican Tom Kean Jr. — son of the popular former governor — and Democrat Robert Menendez, who’d been appointed to fill the seat when Corzine was elected governor. The GOP couldn’t have asked for a better candidate; Tom Kean Sr. is one of his state’s most popular figures, and his son sported better approval/disapproval ratings than the long-serving Menendez.

Yet none of that mattered. Menendez defeated Kean by eight points, 53-45. And that was after Kean spent $7.6 million while the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) spent another $4 million.

So now it’s 2008. Republicans are poised to lose seats all around the nation. The head of the NRSC is hoping to prevent Democrats from winning a filibuster-proof majority, which would mean a staggering loss of eight Republican seats. Only one Democratic seat — in Louisiana — is currently in play. Republicans have few viable options.

So naturally, they’re primed to once again engage in an impossible quest for Jersey. After a fair deal of recruitment tragedies and mishaps, they settled on former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer, who lost the 1996 Senate race by 10 points against scandal-ridden Democrat Robert Torricelli.

Republicans have two polls to blame for their false hope. A June 4 Rasmussen poll gives incumbent Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg a razor-thin 45-44 lead — showing an effectively tied race. A Quinnipiac poll conducted a few days later gave Lautenberg a single-digit 47-38 lead.

But given the history detailed above, you’d be foolish to think that the race will stay that close.

How many times will Republicans be seduced into dropping millions into hopeless causes? In 2006, the $4 million spent by the NRSC in New Jersey could’ve easily protected the GOP’s Senate majority by shoring up incumbents in Virginia and Montana who lost by razor-thin margins.

Today, more than a dozen Republican Senate incumbents are threatened with competitive races. Yet New Jersey once again beckons, a shiny bauble distracting them from winnable races. Democrats are hoping that Republicans will once again rise to take the bait.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .

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