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In Home Stretch, Corzine Presses His Case

In Home Stretch, Corzine Presses His Case

By Mike Memoli - October 24, 2009

WOODBRIDGE, N.J. -- After three days of boisterous rallies featuring his party's biggest guns, it was back to reality for Jon Corzine on the campaign trail Thursday. Instead of a packed arena and booming pop songs, New Jersey's governor came to an event on Main Street here where several dozen law enforcement officers munched on hot dogs while being entertained by a police bagpipe band.

"Yesterday I stood with the President of the United States. I couldn't be any more proud today that I'm standing with all of you," Corzine said as he accepted the endorsement of the New Jersey Policemen's Benevolent Association.

That may have been true in his mind. But if Corzine manages to pull out a once-improbable victory on November 3, that event with President Obama and others in the days before with Vice President Biden and former President Clinton that will be credited with getting the Democrat over the hump.

In an exclusive interview with RealClearPolitics after Thursday's events, Corzine talked about the value of those events to his campaign.

"You get a higher probability of a big turnout with a lot of this activity that we've had from people coming in," he said. "People are going to make their decisions based on what's happening here, but they are very clearly energized."

Wednesday's rally with Obama, the second of the campaign, drew as many as 4,000 people. An event Tuesday with Clinton drew more than 2,000 on the campus of Rutgers University. And Monday, perhaps 1,000 came to see Biden. There is no way to determine how many were undecided voters, or whether they just wanted to see the invited guests. But what they did hear from the super surrogates was a forceful case for Corzine's re-election, one that Corzine himself has not articulated on his own.

"Why in the world is this a close governor's race?" Clinton asked Tuesday, before rattling off a long list of the ways he said Corzine has improved the state in his first term. "I know there's a tendency for politicians to distort their opponents' records in the heat of a campaign, so let's just review some history," Obama said, before talking about local interests as property taxes and early childhood education. "There's a lot of people here, a lot of people in this state that are in fact getting back up now because of what Jon's done and what we've been doing," Biden said, referring to the efforts Corzine has made on turning around the state's economy.

As the incumbent, Corzine's record has of course been a focus of the campaign. But in a state without its own television market and with shrinking resources at local newspapers, coverage seems to have been boiled down to arguments about taxes, forever a top concern here, and the personal controversies involving the candidates. Most of Corzine's own television ads, dominating the airwaves, have focused on the latter.

In the interview, Corzine talked about how some of his proudest accomplishments have been little noticed.

"We're lucky we got a reporter and a dog to show up when we announced the suicide prevention task force," he said. And other issues simply have been drowned out by the overwhelming nature of the economic crisis.

"I think that when you have a pretty full agenda, which we have had, in the context of a recession that is unmatched since the 1930s, things that would otherwise be very important ... [don't] rise up in the public's mind the same way," he said. The events this week where Obama and others can refer to those accomplishments "allow for more recognition," he added.

That recognition comes not from the people at the rallies, but the television cameras covering it. New York and Philadelphia television stations rarely cover Garden State politics and have been focused mostly, it seems, on baseball playoff coverage broadcast. But many covered Corzine's rallies this week; local and national cable stations showed some if not all of the Obama event live. And while Corzine benefited from that intense exposure, Christie drew only ancillary coverage for small events he held in ordinary voters' homes. The Republican said he has chosen intentionally not to reach for star power, and said his message is still getting through to voters.

"I'm convinced that the Democrats in this state thought I'd be dead and buried now. Instead, they're bringing in the President of the United States," Christie said outside a Paramus home Wednesday.

Just months ago, Corzine seemed to be dead in the water. Now, the race is a dead heat according to the latest RCP Average. Corzine says internal numbers paint a slightly better picture still. He also disputes the notion that the independent candidacy of Chris Daggett has been the biggest factor in the narrowing gap.

"When we press on a one-on-one race, we're still ahead in our own polls," he said. As for whether Daggett's support is soft, Corzine says there "three or four decision paths" that may play out on Election Day, but that it's pure speculation at this point.

Mike Memoli covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at mmemoli@realclearpolitics.com

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