"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

 and a people who mean to be their own governors

 must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Automatic Front-Runner

When Democrat Jon S. Corzine spent $60 million of his $300 million-plus fortune to move from Wall Street to Capitol Hill in 2000, he doubled the previous record for spending on a Senate race. Critics dismissed Corzine, formerly co-chairman of Goldman, Sachs & Co., as a dilettante politician with an expensive midlife career crisis.

Today, Senator Corzine, is the automatic front-runner to become New Jersey's next elected governor in November, 2005. His whatever-it-takes campaign spending will discourage challengers, and independent wealth is viewed as a plus in his state's often-disreputable politics. "New Jersey voters swoon over old money because they figure that personal wealth puts politicians above corruption," says political scientist Ross K. Baker of Rutgers University. A couple of years in the governor's mansion could even position Corzine for a run at the White House in 2008.

So why would Corzine, who has served less than one full term, want to leave the Senate? "I was an executive most of my life," Corzine tells BusinessWeek. "Having the ability to set the agenda and fight for that agenda" is more satisfying than the struggle to pass legislation. That's especially true when you are a member of the Senate's minority party.

Fixing what ails New Jersey would give Corzine a résumé tailor-made for the national stage. But talk of a run for the White House is premature, he insists. And if there is a downside to Corzine's chances nationally, it could lay with his left-of-center politics. He opposed the Bush tax cuts and voted against lucrative farm subsidies. Those stances might not play well in Iowa or New Hampshire. Another potential problem: the image of Corzine as a moneybags politician. With millionaires making up 40% of the Senate, "My problem with Corzine is that he is a symbol of a very disturbing trend," says Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington watchdog group.

Corzine insists that voters don't care how he finances his races. And if a Governor Corzine succeeded even marginally in eliminating the sleaze from Jersey politics, his reputation as a reformer would overshadow a liberal voting record in the Senate.

A few years spent cleaning up and running the nation's ninth-largest state could make Corzine a national star. Or a stint in a capital beset with corruption and grueling fights over school funding, auto insurance, and state pensions could do for Corzine what it has done for so many other aspiring Jersey pols -- dash any hopes of higher office.

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