The Gloves Are Off

By Steve Adubato Jr. So the race for U.S. Senate is on. The gloves are off and the nastiness has begun. Incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and his Republican opponent Tom Kean, Jr. didn’t even let the dust settle before their charges and counter-charges hit the front page. Anyone who expects a high level debate about the meaningful national issues that affect New Jersey citizens can forget it. I was listening to Tom Kean, Jr. blasting Menendez by tying him to former Democratic New Jersey Governors Jim McGreevey, Jim Florio and current Governor Jon Corzine. (FYI ” Bob Menendez consistently refers to the “Jr.” after Kean’s name to make sure you don’t confuse him with his very popular father, while Kean, Jr. simply calls himself “Tom Kean.”) Well, on election night Tom Kean, Jr. was saying that McGreevey, Florio and Corzine have all had a history of raising taxes and that Menendez was the “deciding vote” in passing the $2.8 billion tax hike Jim Florio proposed in 1990. His reference to McGreevey’s disgraced gubernatorial tenure and its connection to Bob Menendez speaks for itself. The Corzine connection is expected to be the cornerstone of Kean’s campaign. His argument is that Corzine is raising taxes to the tune of nearly $2 billion, and Menendez isn’t to be trusted in the U.S. Senate because he has argued that Corzine is being fiscally responsible in trying to close a massive state budget deficit. Further, Tom Kean, Jr. refers to Menendez as a “political boss,” and implies that he is ethically challenged. You can expect the squeaky clean Kean to hit the airwaves soon with 30-second commercials accusing Menendez of all kinds of underhanded, backroom, sleazy deal making. And those will be the nice ads. But Bob Menendez is no shrinking violent. He is one of the best counter punchers in the game. He is a great debater and extremely articulate. But he also is prepared to get down and dirty. Expect his mocking of Kean, Jr. to continue while Menendez says really nice things about Kean, Sr., reminding everyone that the son is not the father. But again, that will be the nice stuff. Listen to Menendez from election night: “This campaign will be about who will side with New Jerseyans against the Bush status quo¦Tom Kean, Jr.’s record shows he cannot be trusted to make the right choices. On issue after issue, the facts are clear: Tom Kean, Jr. and George Bush are perfect together – Perfectly wrong.” So there you have it. While the names on the ballot will say Menendez and Kean, in many ways this race will be a referendum on President George Bush and Governor Jon Corzine. Simply put, it is guilt by association, even if there is nothing to be guilty about. Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear what Bob Menendez and Tom Kean, Jr. really believe about the important issues of the day? Issues like homeland security, permanent federal tax cuts, the future of Social Security, stem cell research, Medicaid and Medicare, fighting terrorism, and out-of-control gas prices. You know, stuff that really matters¦ stuff that goes on in Washington that a U.S. Senator can actually impact. I’m talking about the things that affect our lives. That’s the kind of campaign New Jersey needs right now. The kind of campaign that helps voters better understand who each candidate is, and how they would represent us in Washington. This race is also significant because it could have a tremendous impact on who controls Congress. If the Democrats lose this seat, which the Republicans haven’t held since 1972, there is little chance they can rest control of the Senate from the Republicans. President Bush with a Democratic Senate is a very different President than the one he currently is with the Republicans in charge. So clearly, the stakes are high, not just in New Jersey, but nationally. Bob Menendez and Tom Kean, Jr. are both decent public servants who have much to offer, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to them talking about each other on election night. It’s ironic¦Tom Kean, Sr. has been noted for being classy, highly ethical, and the kind of guy who could build bi-partisan support. In recent years he has railed against the negative, nasty tone of political campaigns. One can only hope that he can influence his own son, Tom, Jr., to run the kind of campaign that will make everyone in New Jersey proud. If that were to happen, maybe Bob Menendez would realize that he should do the same. And then, just maybe¦I’m sorry, I just woke up, I must have been dreaming¦.

The Gloves Are Off