- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gov. Jon Corzine’s bid for a second term is in trouble over New Jersey’s battered economy, angry homeowners who face rising property taxes,

and polls showing Republicans beating him in November.

The former Wall Street financier who spent more than $50 million of his own money to capture the governorship has seen his disapproval scores rise to 54 percent, the highest ever measured for a New Jersey governor, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

The growing dissatisfaction has opened up an opportunity for Republicans to win back a state that has been in Democratic hands since 2002 but is now considered a tossup by election analysts. Republicans were also leading in this fall’s only other governor’s race - in Virginia, where Democrats have held the Statehouse for the past eight years.

If Republicans succeed in recapturing both governorships, it would give their tarnished party brand a major boost as they prepare for the midterm elections in 2010 and the presidential election two years later.

Two Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination to take on Mr. Corzine: former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, the acknowledged front-runner, and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan. A Quinnipiac survey of likely voters showed Mr. Christie leading by 23 points.

In general election matchups, the May 20 poll showed Mr. Christie leading Mr. Corzine 45 percent to 38 percent, and Mr. Lonegan, a conservative former small-town mayor, narrowly ahead of the governor by 42 percent to 40 percent.

“The [heavily Democratic] state’s bent helps Corzine, but even that may not be enough to save him. In a state where Republicans have fallen off the cliff, Christie has a serious shot of winning,” the Rothenberg Political Report, which tracks the elections, said last week.

Mr. Christie has made a reputation for himself as a corruption fighter in the state, winning the convictions of some 130 elected officials and employees, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Mr. Lonegan, who is widely seen as the more conservative of the two, is championing a flat tax that the Christie campaign says will raise taxes on 70 percent of the state’s residents.

Mr. Christie is calling for across-the-board tax cuts to boost the state’s economy and massive budget cuts. Former 2000 Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes, a flat-tax champion, says the Christie tax cut plan is better and has endorsed him.

Mr. Corzine’s troubles largely stem from the recession that has hit his state hard, pushing unemployment to 8.4 percent and cutting tax revenues by nearly $3 billion. The shortfall has forced proposed budget cuts, including getting rid of the popular property tax rebates, except for the disabled and seniors.

That has angered homeowners and sparked Republican charges of fiscal mismangement against Mr. Corzine, who says that the collapse in tax revenues left him no other choice but to cancel the property tax rebates.

“It hurts [homeowners], but we don’t have the sources to be able to fund it,” he said last week. “We have to make tough choices. It’s not a choice that I like to make.”

But Republicans reject his blame-the-economy excuse, saying that he is ultimately responsible for the state’s fiscal mess.

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