Nobody can accuse Gov. Jon Corzine of not being politically active this election cycle.
He's become one of Barack Obama's point men on the economy, campaigning for him in Philadelphia and Florida and just yesterday appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" as a surrogate. But when it comes to the campaigns of New Jersey Democrats who are engaged in tight federal races, Corzine has largely played a background role, having made only a couple brief campaign appearances with 7th District congressional candidate Linda Stender and none with 3rd District candidate John Adler.
Nationally, Obama can use Corzine's image as the economically savvy Goldman Sachs CEO. That idea no longer applies in New Jersey. Throughout the campaign, Corzine has been to Republicans what President Bush has been to Democrats: a public figure to rally the troops against, though to a lesser than Bush.
Tonight, Corzine will attend Sen. Hillary Clinton's fundraiser for Stender, but it's not open to the press or general public. Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray thinks the Democrats want to keep it that way.
"Neither George Bush nor Jon Corzine helps any candidates in those races," said Murray. "So the more Jon Corzine stays out, the better it is. George Bush is the lesser popular of the two figures, so the Democrats want to keep that focus on George Bush and they don't want it muted or neutralized by bringing Jon Corzine into the picture."
The Myers campaign often references Corzine, whose "tax and spend agenda Adler has voted with 99% of the time," a press release from last month said.
Corzine's approval ratings are far better than Bush's in the Garden State. A recent FDU poll showed his approval ratings as net positive – 45% to 39% — though Quinnipiac and Monmouth University polls tend to place those numbers lower. Last month, a Quinnipiac poll showed 51% of voters disapproving of Corzine's job performance to 40% approving. A Monmouth poll released around the same time showed 40% approving and 46% disapproving.
The Adler and Stender campaigns see no reason to risk forfeiting their anti-Bush appeal by helping the Republicans connect the two state legislators to Corzine, according to Murray. They're going after swing voters, not rallying the base.
"These are swing districts — independent minded. He doesn't appeal to independents. So there's no upside to having him out there. It's not like this is an election where he'll bring out the base and that's how they'll win it."
According to Myers Campaign Manager Chris Russell, Corzine fits squarely in with his campaign's strategy of associating the words "Trenton" and "Adler" in voters' minds.
"The message we're trying to send on John Adler is, if he screwed up Trenton this bad how do you expect him to change Washington," said Myers Campaign Manager Chris Russell. "He's a recognizable figure that people don't like, especially in Ocean County, so it makes sense for us to link them up."
But Democratic State Chairman Joe Cryan strongly disputed the premise that Adler and Stender have been avoiding the Governor. Corzine has helped raise money and plot strategy, he said, and might make public appearances for them as Election Day approaches.
"I don't think your premise is even close. I don't see it," said Cryan, who noted the recent FDU poll, although he cautioned that you can never get a good picture of the political landscape from just one survey.
If Corzine has been absent from the campaign trail, it's because he's busy dealing with how the national economic crisis will impact New Jersey and helping get Obama elected, Cryan said.
"Our only problem with Corzine is that there's not enough to go around. He's been largely trending up," he said.
But Cryan's Republican counterpart, Tom Wilson, said that Corzine is an "albatross" to Stender and Adler, and that their lack of reference to him or his policies on the campaign trail is telling.
"You don't see anybody running as a ‘Corzine Democrat' or hear them saying ‘send the Corzine team to Washington.' They're running away from him and trying to avoid any discussion of their record," he said.
Stender's campaign said that they'd have no problem campaigning Corzine, and note that the two did march in the same Labor Day parade in South Plainfield and the same Indian Day Parade in Edison. They even have pictures of the two at each event on their campaign Web site.
"I don't think it's a problem. The Governor is pretty busy doing stuff for the state and Obama," said Stender spokeswoman Irene Lin. "We're happy to have the Governor's support and help."