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New Jersey story: Governor race heats up

After some 'Sopranos'-style campaigning by both sides, Democrat Jon Corzine may pull an upset and win reelection.

November 01, 2009|Bob Drogin

"It's such a dismal race," said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. "People want solutions that no one is offering. The campaign has been depressing even for political junkies."

When more than 1,000 Democrats packed a wedding hall Tuesday night in West Orange, Bill Clinton lavished praise on Corzine for lowering crime, improving schools and helping the elderly.

"Why are we even having this race?" the former president asked in mock frustration. "This man has been a great governor in difficult times."

But the hollers and applause for Clinton quickly died when Corzine stepped up to speak. "He's not a charismatic speaker," explained Phil Thigpen, chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee. "That's a tough sell when people are having a hard time."

"We can't get the base fired up like we need," said Ronald Rice, a Democratic state senator and former deputy mayor of Newark. "He can't connect with people."

"Everybody's hurting these days," said Marty Schwartz, a labor leader in the 15,000-member Building and Construction Trades Council. "So they blame the guy at the top."

Corzine has pumped more than $25 million of his own money into the race and has said that he may spend $40 million. Christie has accepted state funding that caps his spending at $10.9 million, putting him at a disadvantage.

Most of the money goes for TV ads on stations in New York and Philadelphia, two of the nation's most expensive markets. For better or worse, the World Series has complicated the race.

Many voters in northern New Jersey are Yankees fans, and voters down south tend to be Phillies devotees. Politicians risk alienating one group or the other if they take sides.

The danger was clear Thursday when someone presented Christie with a red Phillies cap at the senior center. He quickly passed it to his wife before anyone could take a compromising photograph. "I'm a Mets fan," he said loudly. "Thank goodness."

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bob.drogin@latimes.com

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