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N.J. Gov Race Tightening?

Although largely overshadowed both in Washington, D.C., and nationally by the Virginia gubernatorial race, the contest to pick a new governor in New Jersey is getting more interesting by the day.

Just three weeks before Election Day, a handful of recent polls show businessman Doug Forrester (R) gaining ground on Sen. Jon Corzine (D). Three surveys -- two conducted by independent firms and one by a Republican group - pegged Corzine's lead at six, seven and two points. This is down considerably from last month when surveys showed the Democrat holding a comfortable double-digit margin.

Strategists on both sides credit Forrester's upward momentum to an ad he is currently running featuring beloved former governor Tom Kean (R). "Like me he's his own man," Kean says of Forrester in the ad.  "Doug Forrester is one of the most honorable men I have ever known." That reform-minded message appears to be resonating in a state known for political graft, which, of late, has come in the form of its Democratic politicians, including former governor Jim McGreevey (D).

Democratic members of the state's U.S. House delegation, several of whom are angling to be appointed to the Senate by Corzine to fill his seat should he win the governorship next month, expressed confidence in a win for their party.

"We're not surprised," said 1st District Rep. Rob Andrews, one of four House members openly interested in being appointed by Corzine. "We thought the race would tighten because New Jersey is a much more competitive state than people think." 

In the 2004 presidential election, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) won the Garden State by seven points despite some talk among Republicans that they might be able to eke out a win.

Twelfth District Rep. Rush Holt (D), who is also interested in a promotion to the Senate, said that he tends not to put too much stock in polls. "Three weeks ago there was a poll showing Corzine up 20 points,"  he said. "I didn't believe that one either."

The Forrester campaign is equally confident.  A campaign spokeswoman told the Trenton Times, "We knew the race would tighten after Labor Day when voters began to compare Doug's 30-in-3 plan for real property tax relief with Corzine's warmed-over rebate scheme."

The race's final 21 days are likely to be defined by heavy spending on both sides. Corzine and Forrester both have significant personal wealth and have not hesitated to dip into their fortunes to fund their respective races.  Roughly $30 million had been spent by the two men as of late last week.

Andrews said the Corzine campaign "has done a good job of defining Forrester. As long as it is a choice between two men and not a referendum on change we will win."

The other two Democratic House members said to be interested in taking on Corzine's Senate seat are 6th District Rep. Frank Pallone and 13th District Rep. Bob Menendez.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 17, 2005; 8:15 AM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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