Election Eve

This is supposed to be an Election Day blog, but I figured I should get a head start. There’ll be plenty to write about tomorrow, but today is really the last chance to see the candidates on the stump. And it occurred to me late this afternoon that for one of these guys, this is probably it. I think everyone knows the story about Doug Forrester: If he loses tomorrow, he’ll have run and lost two statewide campaigns and burned a $50 million hole in his pocket. It’s safe to say the GOP will look to someone else to lead the next statewide ticket. Jon Corzine is a trickier question. Everyone’s knee jerk reaction is that he’d just get up off the mat and run for a second U.S. Senate term next year if he comes up short tomorrow. That’s an understandable sentiment, but I think people make that assumption because they’re just used to viewing Corzine as the 800-pound gorilla in state politics. But think about it — won’t Corzine look a lot less intimidating if he blows this? If he can’t beat Doug Forrester in 2005, why would he be a lock to knock off Tom Kean in 2006? And why would he want to spend another $30 million (give or take) trying? He’s already told us he doesn’t really want the job anymore. So I say whoever gets the short end of the stick tomorrow has run his last political campaign. Ever. With that in mind, I decided to get one last look at each man in action. I started with Forrester, whose green campaign bus pulled into the parking lot of the Nottingham Firehouse in Hamilton Township (Mercer County) at about 8:30 tonight. (This is the first firehouse I can remember with its own auditorium.) Forrester disembarked accompanied by his wife Andrea and daughter Brianna, and offered an upbeat assessment of the race to a few TV reporters. About a hundred yards away a small group of Corzine supporters taunted him, though they were tough to hear. The candidate’s handlers brought him to a set of double-doors that opened up into the auditorium. A few of them offered hopeful tidbits of info to the reporters in tow. For example, it was pointed out that the day before the 1981 election, Tom Kean trailed Jim Florio by the same margin Forrester now trails Corzine. I’m not sure if this is true (I have no reason to doubt it) and I’m also not sure if the examples are analogous. But when you’re the Forrester campaign and you’ve yet to lead in a single poll, this is the stuff that keeps you going. Anyway, there’s no point in mentioning the specifics of Forrester’s speech. It’s basically the same one he’s been giving all year. And I know I’ve knocked him for his performance in debates (particularly Saturday’s) but he’s quite good in a setting like tonight’s, where he has a microphone and the crowd’s complete attention. Unfortunately, no one besides hardcore GOP partisans has seen this Forrester. I was looking for signs in Forrester’s body language that he knows the end is near, but I didn’t see any. And the crowd — at least 250 people, and a lot of them, surprisingly, were under 30 — also seemed enthused. I don’t think you can draw much from this, though, other than that Forrester either believes he has a real shot tomorrow or he’s doing a damn good job of kidding himself. And if he is kidding himself, well, that’s what you have to do. How do you think Freddy Ferrer made it through October? I left the firehouse thinking I may have just seen the last campaign speech Doug Forrester will ever give. It was hardly Churchillian, but if it was his last hurrah, he went out fighting. That probably sounded like a cliche. On the way to my car I talked to a veteran reporter, someone who’s covered a number of gubernatorial races. I asked him how much he thought Corzine would win by tomorrow, and he guessed around three points. This surprised me, because, to be honest, I’m expecting a pretty comfortable Corzine win. “You don’t think Forrester’s got a shot, do you?” I asked. “I think it’s going to be close,” he said. “If the cities go to sleep on Corzine, I could see him losing.” Which is an interesting comment, because, as you may recall, I set out to see both candidates tonight. But when I got to the Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, the traditional last campaign stop for Democratic candidates, the place was a ghost town. Turns out, the event was canceled at the last minute. Corzine was running late and had to do an interview with Lynn Doyle on Cn-8. Think the folks who waited for him at Shiloh will go the extra mile for Corzine tomorrow?

Election Eve