$70 MILLION LATER, DO WE REALLY KNOW JON AND DOUG?

by David P. Rebovicb As Election Day approaches I, like most New Jerseyans, remain concerned that the campaigns have been too negative and uninformative. While Jon Corzine and Doug Forrester have recently been listing their positions on issues other than just property tax relief and ethics, there’s not a lot that can be said in thirty or sixty second television and radio ads. If the most annoying aspect of the campaigns has been the constant attacks launched by both candidates, the most disappointing has been the failure of the candidates to discuss issues in detail. But there has been another important topic that both Corzine and Forrester have avoided this fall. That’s how each plans to govern the state if elected. Specifically, what types of people will they appoint as commissioners and key advisors? Whose counsel will they seek outside of state government? What individuals and groups will have access to them? How will they communicate with the general public to ensure responsiveness and to explain what the new Administration’s agenda is and how and when it plans to accomplish its goals. Will state government operations and procedures be changed, with an eye toward achieving efficiencies and making programs more effective? These matters have barely been broached by either candidate during the campaign. This is surprising for two reasons. One is that former Governor Jim McGreevey was heavily criticized for his controversial appointments, the large number of patronage jobs he created, and for being influenced by political bosses. The other is that Corzine and Forrester are successful business executives who have said that their management skills will help them put state government back on the right course. But after more than $70 million has been spent on the campaigns – mostly on those television and radio ads -, we know little about how a Governor Corzine or Governor Forrester plan to govern! On Wednesday morning, this topic will suddenly become the most talked about one on West State Street as partisans jockey for jobs, bureaucrats wonder if theirs will still exist in 2006, and lobbyists will think about how they can gain access to the new Administration. And don’t be surprised if the average New Jersey, less interested in insider politics but surely concerned about the future of the state, say, “Okay, now let’s see what this new governor really plans to do!” In the meantime, however, those inside and outside government who do or do not have a rooting interest in the outcome of the governor’s race will be pondering an earthier matter. That is, the comments made by Jon Corzine’s ex-wife and whether they will effect the outcome of the election. Most polls taken immediately after Joanne Corzine’s statements were published and then featured in a Forrester ad showed the race to be closer. But before Forrester could celebrate he had to respond to rumors that he had an extramarital relationship. While he denied the allegations, the GOP candidate lost a valuable day of campaigning and saw stories about his personal life competing with those about his opponent. “Person on the street” interviews conducted by reporters throughout the Garden State indicated that residents were very upset that the ex-Mrs. Corzine had become part of the campaign and that Forrester was trying to use her. But let’s face it. The story did move enough voters to turn what appeared to be a pretty solid Corzine victory into a competitive race. And the matter was important in another respect. It provided further evidence that New Jerseyans simply don’t know a lot about these two guys, one of whom they will elect governor on Tuesday. I’m not referring to Corzine’s and Forrester’s private lives but to their public personas – what they really stand for, the kinds of people and politicians they associate with and admire, and, yes, how they plan to govern the state. You would think that New Jerseyans would know quite a bit about Corzine. After all, he has been a U.S. Senator for the last five years and entered the governor’s race with high favorable ratings. As a Democrat in a decidedly “blue” state, Corzine has regularly said he has the right values to be governor of New Jersey. In addition, he has been endorsed by most of the big interest groups in the state, from organized labor, to teachers, law enforcement organizations. and environmentalists. Despite all of this, Corzine has reached fifty percent in only a few polls and that was very late in the campaign. While he has never trailed, Corzine has had trouble putting Forrester away. And once his ex-wife’s comments were publicized, his lead in several polls shrunk. What does this mean? Well, it means that Corzine’s approval ratings prior to the general election campaign were soft. Indeed, the more that New Jerseyans saw of him in the campaign, the lower his ratings got. It also means that during this campaign, one in which he spent some $40 million, Corzine did not establish a relationship with voters that went beyond partisan loyalty or the belief that he is the lesser or two evils. How could Corzine have established a stronger relationship with voters? Well, he could have run more ads like the one that started airing Friday in which he stares straight into the camera and tells New Jerseyans what he stands for and why he should be elected. More importantly, Corzine could have helped himself, and muted the impact of his ex-wife’s comments, had he early on in the campaign clearly and forcefully stated that there would be no place for the political bosses in his Administration. As it turns out, given the closeness of the race, Corzine now cannot afford to break with the bosses, since he needs their help getting out the vote on Tuesday. What about Forrester? It’s hard to believe that he can win the governor’s race by relying on ads featuring his wife, legendary former Governor Tom Kean, and popular ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani instead of trying to reach out to voters himself. Yes, the race is closer, and some polls have Forrester in striking distance. But it’s hard to not notice that the race is closer because Corzine has lost some support, not because Forrester has gained more. In fact Forrester’s support has been around forty percent for weeks now. With time running out, the GOP candidate needs to get on the air himself and tell New Jerseyans why they should vote for him. And that includes explaining how he will govern. David P. Rebovich, Ph.D., is Managing Director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics (www.rider.edu/institute). He also writes a regular column, “On Politics,” for NEW JERSEY LAWYER.

$70 MILLION LATER, DO WE REALLY KNOW JON AND DOUG?