Gov. Jon Corzine’s cruel September continues. After an August in which his relentless attacks on Republican challenger Christopher Christie at least stabilized the New Jersey governor’s race, the incumbent Corzine has seen what momentum he may have had completely blunted by missteps, bad polling news, and new revelations about his personal finances.
At the end of July, shortly after a high-profile visit from President Barack Obama and the arrests of forty-four mostly Democratic elected officials and politically-connected operators, Corzine trailed Christie by as much as 15 points in independent polling. In danger of falling completely out of contention in the race with more than three months to go, Corzine shook up his campaign staff, bringing in veterans of New Jersey’s brass knuckle political wars.
Jamie Fox, a former chief of staff for Sen. Robert “the Torch” Torricelli and head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was reportedly asked by Corzine himself to serve as an “unpaid adviser” to the campaign. The result was a string of attacks on Christie covering everything from his professional ethics as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey for seven years under President George W. Bush to his personal finances, and even his driving record.
The attack on Christie’s U.S. Attorney tenure was particularly low-brow. Corzine alleged that phone calls between Christie and then Bush White House political director Karl Rove — under questioning by Corzine allies on the House Judiciary Committee — revealed that Christie was planning a run for governor while serving as U.S. Attorney, a potential Hatch Act violation.
Corzine and his surrogates then pivoted to questioning the entire basis on which Christie administered the U.S. Attorney’s office, saying that the phone calls demonstrated undue political influence over prosecutorial decisions under Christie’s watch. “I am under the impression that U.S. Attorneys are supposed to be free of politics,” Corzine said. “If politics comes into play, then the whole basis of justice is called into question. Are the actions taken dependent on the fair administration of justice, or are there political issues?”
Still, August may well turn out to be Corzine’s high water mark of the campaign. Despite the month-long attacks on Christie, polls taken at the beginning of September showed that while Corzine had managed to marginally increase Christie’s negative favorability ratings, he had not improved his own standing in the minds of the voters. Christie’s lead settled in the high single-digits in three consecutive independent polls, while Corzine’s re-elect and personal favorability numbers remained well below fifty percent.
The campaign shot itself in the foot at the beginning of this month. Citing an undisclosed scheduling conflict, the Corzine campaign filed a request to postpone the first of two scheduled debates three weeks from October 1 to October 22. The request required approval from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, which sponsors the debates. But when the commission deadlocked on Corzine’s petition, the campaign backed down and agreed to participate on the originally scheduled dates.
The gamble backfired when the Christie campaign challenged Corzine to agree to a third debate on the date to which Corzine had sought to move the first one. “We challenge Governor Corzine to use his open schedule on October 22 to continue the conversation with the New Jersey’s voters and meet Chris for a third debate,” Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien prodded. Corzine refused.
Then just last week, the third in a string of bad news items for Corzine hit the papers. Republicans pounced on Corzine’s financial disclosure reports to highlight a questionable investment Corzine holds with the parent company of four New Jersey casinos.
State law prohibits the governor and senior government officials from having any financial dealings with casinos. Yet, Corzine has reported at least $700,000 in interest income over the last three years from his share in a private hedge fund administered by the company that owns Harrah’s Entertainment. Corzine’s attorney denies any improper financial relationship, but Christie and the state’s top two Republicans have called on Corzine to reveal the extent of his financial relationship and immediately divest the funds.
It has gotten so bad for Corzine that late last week a Democrat allied polling group released the results of poll it conducted testing potential replacements for the governor on the November ballot. HUMAN EVENTS reported three weeks ago on rumors that New Jersey Democrats were considering replacing Corzine on the ballot. The recent spate of bad news for Corzine has brought those rumors out into the open.
With less than six weeks left, the New Jersey governor’s race is clearly Christopher Christie’s to lose. The Corzine campaign had been counting on more help from President Obama down the stretch of the campaign. But that help was always contingent on Corzine improving his standing in the polls. After a modest rebound in August, the Corzine campaign’s bad September may have assured that Obama’s schedule will booked solid in October.