New Jersey GOP tilts toward a new Senate 'savior'

After governor drops out, citing money, popular former governorconsiders bid.

In a surprising development, former Gov. Thomas Kean (R) is considering running for the US Senate from New Jersey - a move that could help the Republicans capture the seat and perhaps influence the balance of power in Congress after the 2000 elections.

Just a few days ago, Republicans inside and outside the state were lamenting the pullout of current GOP Gov. Christine Todd Whitman - a leading contender to win the post being vacated by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). Democrats were elated.

But in recent days, Republican activists have been pressuring Mr. Kean to consider a run, and he now says he's giving it "serious consideration."

Of course, getting Kean, the president of Drew University in Madison, N.J., to run for the US Senate has become something of a ritual in New Jersey. State Republicans urged him to run in 1988 and again in 1996. This time, though, the timing might be right.

"I've been through all this before, but the circumstances are so unusual this time and so totally unexpected, I've got to give it some serious consideration," he says.

Kean would be a formidable candidate. Reelected by the largest margin in state history in 1985, he still enjoys 90 percent name recognition. As governor, he presided over an economic boom, and helped elevate education and the environment as issues.

Clearly, though, his reluctance to reenter politics runs deep. He worries in particular about the constant demand to raise money.

"Even in the first two years you're under pressure to raise money," he says. "That doesn't sound like a good way to spend productive time when you have one of the most important jobs in the world's most important democracy."

Campaign costs run especially high in New Jersey, because candidates have to buy time in both the Philadelphia and New York media markets. "Governor Whitman's professional advisers told her she had to raise a quarter of a million dollars a week from now on," he says. "It means she would have been out three nights a week doing fund-raisers. That's much worse than when I was last in office."

Moreover, the model of the self-financing millionaire politician is gaining ground in New Jersey. High-tech entrepreneur Frank Lautenburg used $5 million of his own money to win an open Senate seat in 1982. The race to replace him could include two former investment bankers with a capacity to finance their own campaigns. One, Democrat Jon Corzine, a former co-chairman of Goldman, Sachs & Co., has said he's prepared to invest $10 million in the race.

"[Kean] is a candidate who has never really relished raising money, and the question is: Is he willing to raise the money it takes to become a serious candidate?" says Stephen Salmore, a GOP consultant and professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University.

Kean insists that a candidate who is already well known across the state may not need to raise as much as the professionals say.

To him, the real issue is not whether the money can be raised, but whether the job is worth the cost. In addition to his university position, Kean is also chairman of the board of the Carnegie Foundation and is heading a public-private alliance to renew the city of Newark. "I have to judge whether you can make more of an impact inside or outside [the Senate]," he says.

Kean has been at odds with some GOP party leaders on issues such as abortion, education, the environment, and what he calls the need for "a politics of inclusion" for minorities. He promises a quick decision on whether to run, perhaps by this week.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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