- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

NEW YORK New Jersey voters choose their Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate tomorrow in two primary elections. The campaigns so far have been more about money than political issues, raising the delicate question of exactly how many votes can a man really buy.

While the GOP is fielding four virtually unknown hopefuls in its primary, the party's attention has riveted on the free-spending Democratic candidate, former Wall Street financier Jon S. Corzine, 53, who is new to politics.

In opposing former Gov. Jim Florio, 62, for the seat left vacant by the retiring Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, Mr. Corzine already has set an all-time record for campaign spending in any Senate race an estimated $34 million, much of it devoted to blanketing the airwaves with his qualifications. Moreover, he has dispensed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic political organizations and politicians throughout the state.

Mr. Corzine, who is spending $2 million a week on TV ads, has overcome his lack of recognition among voters. Last week, the bearded executive drew lavish criticism from his opponents after he treated 800 potential Democratic voters to a free dinner at a hotel in Elizabeth. He even chartered buses to pick up senior citizens. Cost: $10,000. The Florio camp called it part of a "hostile takeover of the Democratic Party."

In a state where registered Democrats have a slight edge, but more than half the state's voters identify themselves as independents, polls show Mr. Corzine ahead of the seasoned Mr. Florio by anywhere from 19 to 26 points. That lead is influenced by the awareness that it is difficult to turn on a radio or TV in the expensive New York-Philadelphia market area and not hear a Corzine campaign commercial.

Some Republican observers argue that a Florio primary win would be a decided advantage, especially since the former Navy boxer still is remembered among voters as the governor who a decade ago instigated a $2.8 billion tax increase and then went down to defeat by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.

"If Florio wins, he becomes the issue," said State Senate Republican President Donald DiFrancesco. "Corzine has money to burn and would outspend us 10 to one in the general election."

Other political insiders are counting on indeed, hoping for a backlash among voters who may resent the ultraliberal tax-and-spend philosophy of the wealthy bond trader and the assumption that money can buy anything, including their vote. Mr. Corzine, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs & Co., could be perceived as an embodiment of the American dream or a huckster with a lust for power.

"All this talk about how much he's spending could be a negative," said State Sen. Richard Cody, the Democratic minority leader, who is supporting Mr. Corzine. He reflects the split in the state Democratic Party, largely influenced by Mr. Corzine's available money and old resentment toward Mr. Florio, whose defeat left the Democratic organization in a shambles.

"I've never seen anything like this in the state," said Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University. "An expensive campaign here is usually $10 million."

Among the Republican contenders, U.S. Rep. Bob Franks, 48, and state Sen. William L. Gormley, 54, are considered the front-runners ahead of Essex County Executive James W. Treffinger, 50, and former Libertarian Murray Sabrin, 53, the only pro-life candidate.

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