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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Corzine Prevails in a Nasty Governor's Race in New Jersey - New York Times

Corzine Prevails in a Nasty Governor's Race in New Jersey - New York TimesNovember 9, 2005
New Jersey
Corzine Prevails in a Nasty Governor's Race in New Jersey

Jon S. Corzine, a liberal Democrat who parlayed his wealth and experience as a Wall Street executive into victory for the United States Senate five years ago, won election yesterday as New Jersey's 52nd governor. He defeated a moderate Republican and fellow multimillionaire, Douglas R. Forrester, in a nasty campaign that was the costliest in the state's history.

With 97 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Corzine had 53 percent of the vote to Mr. Forrester's 44 percent. Mr. Corzine's victory allowed the Democrats to hold on to both of the governor's seats that were up for grabs nationwide.

In Virginia, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, defeated the Republican, Jerry W. Kilgore, sending a powerful message that President Bush's political standing had fallen in this reliably Republican state. With 96 percent of the ballots counted, Mr. Kaine had won 51 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Mr. Kilgore, the former attorney general. [Page A24.]

In New Jersey, the election ended quickly for Mr. Forrester, who called Mr. Corzine shortly after 10 p.m. to concede. About 45 minutes later, an exuberant Mr. Corzine appeared before cheering supporters in East Brunswick, the Bon Jovi song, "In These Arms," blaring in the background. Mr. Corzine told voters, "Hold me accountable."

Flanked by his three children and other relatives, Mr. Corzine said, "Together we will restore the simple truth that public service is about serving the public - nothing else, nothing more, not our party, not our friends, not our contributors, just the people of the state of New Jersey.

"And I want to be very clear," he continued, "our government should not and will not be about economic opportunities for politicians or anyone else, but a partnership that's built with the citizens of New Jersey."

In a gracious concession speech earlier, Mr. Forrester congratulated Mr. Corzine. With his wife, Andrea, looking deflated, and his 19-year-old daughter, Briana, weeping, Mr. Forrester told supporters at a Princeton hotel that he was prepared to "help in any way he sees fit to carry out what I believe is an important public task of bringing New Jersey together, of healing New Jersey, and of giving us a brighter future that we each have spoken about during this campaign."

Republicans also lost significant ground on Long Island, where Nassau County's longtime Republican district attorney was ousted and Democrats consolidated their control of Nassau and Suffolk Counties. One close ally of Mr. Forrester's, Carol L. Beske, speculated that Mr. Bush's sinking popularity led to "a big Bush backlash."

With Mr. Corzine's victory, the political focus in New Jersey will quickly turn to Mr. Corzine's choice to serve out the last year of his Senate term in Washington. Among the contenders: Richard J. Codey, the acting governor, and two Democratic congressman, Robert Menendez of Hudson County and Robert E. Andrews of Camden County.

For the better part of the last year, both Mr. Corzine, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, and Mr. Forrester, a founder of a prescription drug benefits company, tried to focus on their plans to reduce New Jersey's high property taxes and disinfect a political system notorious for patronage and corruption.

Yet both campaigns ended up consumed by vitriol and inundated the airwaves with spiteful commercials attacking each other, including one in which Mr. Corzine's former wife was quoted as warning that Mr. Corzine would let down New Jersey voters just as he had let down his family. As of late last week, the candidates had spent a combined $73 million of their fortunes on the race, much of it on television.

The campaign became so noxious that many voters questioned by pollsters said that they would have preferred to vote for Mr. Codey, who was thrust into the governor's office after the resignation last year of Gov. James E. McGreevey.

Mr. Corzine's victory dovetailed with his party's continued control of the Legislature, as the Assembly's Democrats appeared on their way to expanding their 47-33 seat majority. As a result, Mr. Corzine, 58, stands poised to apply his M.B.A. approach to governing and a liberal philosophy to issues ranging from a looming budget deficit to education and the rising cost of state pensions.

Mr. Forrester, 52, did not talk about his political future. But another run at statewide office seems unlikely. On his race this year and in his campaign for the United States Senate in 2002, he spent $37 million over all of his own money.

New Jersey voters also cast ballots in local races. In Edison, one of the state's fastest-growing and ethnically diverse communities,, Jun Choi, a 34-year-old Korean-American and rising Democratic star, appeared to be on his way to a narrow victory as mayor.

Two ballot questions in New Jersey passed. One would create a new position of lieutenant governor starting in 2009. The state's last two elected governors - Mr. McGreevey, a Democrat, and Christie Whitman, a Republican - resigned, turning the governor's office over to the State Senate president, as the State Constitution required. The other ballot question sets aside more taxes to pay for pollution controls on diesel trucks and buses.

The New Jersey governor's race commanded an inordinate amount of attention. Potential presidential contenders, including Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain, and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, came to campaign for their party's candidate. They were mindful, no doubt, of New Jersey's early presidential primary in 2008 and its deep pockets for political fund-raising.

Since Mr. Corzine announced that he was running last December, the race was seen as his to lose. He had the money, which dissuaded Mr. Codey from entering the race. He had the platform as a popular United States senator. And he had the advantage of a Democratic machine that has been credited for innovative, though controversial, get-out-the-vote efforts.

But Mr. Forrester was not easily intimidated and made it clear that he was determined to avenge his 2002 loss for the United States Senate, a contest in which he was leading in the polls until his opponent, the scandal-wounded incumbent, Robert G. Torricelli, dropped out with only six weeks left. The courts allowed former Senator Frank R. Lautenberg to replace him after the legal deadline, and Mr. Forrester lost.

Both candidates for governor this year guaranteed that the race would be intense when they signaled their willingness to finance their own campaigns by choosing not to participate in New Jersey's system of publicly funded campaigns, which imposed limits on spending. And that opened up the spigots. At last count, Mr. Corzine had spent $38 million in the general election; Mr. Forrester, $19 million. Factoring in their spending on the primary, their total outlay came to a combined $73 million.

Mr. Forrester threw the first blows, attacking Mr. Corzine a week before he even prevailed in a bruising Republican primary on June 7 over six rivals. The race did not have the traditional summer lull, leaving the candidates to campaign assiduously across the state.

When Mr. Forrester talked about corruption, he sought to link Mr. Corzine to Democratic power brokers. When Mr. Corzine unveiled his agenda to make health care, housing and other issues more affordable, he made a point of linking Mr. Forrester to President Bush.

Mr. Corzine was criticized for giving, and later forgiving, a $470,000 loan to the head of a state union with whom he was romantically linked. Mr. Forrester was hounded by charges that his business, BeneCard Services, had won no-bid contracts with local governments and accepted rebates from pharmaceutical companies to push higher prices on consumers.

As the fall wore on, those accusations were prominent in television and radio commercials that were invariably harsh in tone, and sometimes misleading in content.

One television commercial for Mr. Corzine, for instance, featured a young quadriplegic man in a wheelchair who looked directly at viewers and said: "Doug Forrester doesn't support embryonic stem-cell research. Therefore, I don't think he supports people like me."

But the most controversial ad came from the Forrester camp, a week before the election. The commercial displayed a quotation attributed to Joanne Corzine, Mr. Corzine's former wife, in The New York Times, in which she said her former husband had "let his family down, and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too."

That commercial, in turn, prompted some newspapers and television stations to report on a series of unsubstantiated rumors that had been bubbling for months about the personal lives of both candidates - rumors that both men angrily denied.

By the time voters actually made it to the polls, the favorable ratings for both candidates had plummeted to below 40 percent. One poll released on Monday found that 84 percent of voters thought the two had spent too much energy attacking each other. So for many people, presumably, the end of the campaign season last night could not have come soon enough.

David Kocieniewski in East Brunswick and Richard Lezin Jones in Princeton contributed reporting for this article.

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