Deep pockets tilt N.J. race toward Democrats

Memo to Rep. Bob Franks, the Republican candidate for Senate in New Jersey: Start fund-raising now.

Mr. Franks will need all the money he can scoop up. His opponent is Jon Corzine, the multimillionaire who spent a record $33 million of his own money to defeat former Gov. Jim Florio in the Democratic primary this week.

The match-up will pit Mr. Corzine, an unabashed liberal, against a severely underfunded congressman who is considered moderate by Republican standards.

The difference in their war chests is important, because New Jersey is an expensive state in which to run for office. Political candidates have to advertise on pricey New York and Philadelphia television stations.

Some political observers believe the financial difference will give Corzine and the Democrats an edge in recapturing the seat held by a retiring Democrat - helping the party in its battle for control of Congress.

"I think New Jersey has gone from a toss-up state to a lean-hard-to-the-Democrats state," says Joseph Mercurio of National Political Services, a New York consulting firm.

If Corzine dominates the Senate race in New Jersey, Mr. Mercurio says it could also have an impact on the presidential race this fall. The Garden State has long been a swing state.

"Corzine will be able to finance local candidates and enhance Democratic turnout," he says.

Corzine, who is independently wealthy, also may embolden other private millionaires to run for office.

Corzine says he plans to do more fund-raising for the general election. "I won't make it a priority, but I think it's important to have support," Corzine said in an interview last week.

But, he added, "I don't want to be beholden to the interests that it takes to raise the large sums of money that are required to run."

Corzine had little choice but to spend a lot of money in his primary fight. He was a former investment banker with virtually no name recognition in New Jersey. His opponent, former Governor Florio, had high name recognition and a base of support.

However, Florio proved vulnerable because of his unpopular move to raise taxes by $2.8 billion during his time as governor.

That resulted in Democrats losing power in the state and a lingering animosity that may have ultimately handed Corzine the primary.

Mercurio expects Corzine to move closer to the middle when he runs against Franks this fall.

In the primary, Corzine's agenda included new spending on healthcare and education, funded from the state's projected budget surplus. The Republicans plan to use part of the money for a tax refund.

Franks has already started to attack Corzine's record-setting spending, which came to about $140 per vote.

"If he has such little regard for his own money, what regard will he have for yours and your children's and your parents'?" Franks asked during his victory speech Tuesday night.

For his part, Corzine says he wants to talk about the issues, such as Social Security and education.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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