- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

The New Jersey governor’s race, which was expected to be a slam-dunk for the Democrats, suddenly has turned into a competitive contest, with Republican businessman Doug Forrester running closely behind Sen. Jon Corzine.

Earlier this year, few, if any, analysts thought the Republicans had a chance of winning back the governorship in a state where about two-thirds of the voters are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents and one-third are Republicans.

But a Quinnipiac University poll last week found that the liberal senator’s seemingly insurmountable lead had shrunk to four percentage points, with Mr. Corzine leading his Republican rival 48 percent to 44 percent.

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Mr. Forrester “is just about tied with Corzine among independents now, and that accounts for the change in the race,” said Clay Richards, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute.

Other polls gave Mr. Corzine a larger lead, eight points in a Monmouth University/Gannett survey of New Jersey and 10 points in the Fairleigh Dickinson University poll. But the much tighter numbers, fueled in large part by the twin issues of Statehouse corruption and high property taxes, as well as ethical questions about Mr. Corzine, have given Mr. Forrester’s campaign a burst of momentum.

“A cloud hanging over Corzine for a month or more concerning how he spent his money, both in terms of buying his girlfriend a house and lavish contributions to Democratic organizations across the state, has changed perceptions in some voters’ minds that he was trying to buy up support from all parts of the Democrats’ base,” Mr. Richards said.

Mr. Corzine was criticized for his romantic relationship with Carla Katz, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1034, one of New Jersey’s largest unions, after it was revealed that a company he owns loaned her $470,000 to buy her home. Mr. Corzine, who is divorced, eventually forgave the loan.

“It has somewhat tarnished Corzine as a white knight,” Mr. Richards said.

Mr. Forrester, who was the Republican 2002 Senate nominee, also has zeroed in on Mr. Corzine’s opposition to tax cuts and, in particular, the state’s property-tax rate.

Mr. Forester has proposed a tax credit to ease the property-tax burden, but Mr. Corzine has charged that it would open a “$9 billion hole” in the state budget.

When voters were asked who would do a better job of reducing property taxes, Mr. Forrester leads Mr. Corzine 44 percent to 39 percent, the Quinnipiac poll shows.

Despite tighter polls, veteran elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg said he doubts Mr. Corzine is in serious trouble.

“We continue to rate it a clear advantage for the Democrats. Forrester’s chances of winning are small. Corzine was certainly embarrassed by some bad news, but I don’t believe that at this point the race has been fundamentally changed,” he said.

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