Once again, N.J.'s gubernatorial campaign is stuck in the mud | Commentary | NewJerseyNewsroom.com -- Your State. Your News.

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Once again, N.J.'s gubernatorial campaign is stuck in the mud

mud_optBY CARL GOLDEN
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY

To all you people out there who thought the gubernatorial campaign would add to your storehouse of knowledge about issues like property taxes, health care, education, and public spending: FOOLED YA!

If the early trend continues, it will be an all too familiar three-month mud marathon, interrupted occasionally by accusations from both camps that the other one hurled the first clod of dirt.

At this rate, the most insightful comments we'll hear will be "tax and spend liberal" and "right wing conservative pal of George Bush."

Gov. Jon Corzine's campaign has attempted to define Republican candidate Chris Christie as someone who pays lip service to ethical conduct, including awarding no-bid contracts to friends and supporters.

Corzine's running mate, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, took off after Christie for supposedly going easy on a tax cheat because the cheater was represented by a couple of Christie's lawyer friends. Not that it matters, but there was nothing to support her assertions other than allegations in a lawsuit filed by the disgruntled loser of the court case.

The overheated language attributed to her in the news release seemed jarringly incongruous coming from a grey-haired 74-year-old grandmother, but, hey, if you're in the game, you're IN the game.

One of the Governor's television spots records Christie leaving a Congressional subcommittee hearing looking into his awarding a lucrative monitoring contract to former U. S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, implying that Christie fled in fright from the committee because he was unable to provide a satisfactory answer to their questions.

That Christie awarded the contract in accordance with established regulations – which the Obama Justice Department also utilizes – wasn't mentioned.

The Governor's campaign has charged further that Christie awarded a monitoring contract to a former U. S. Attorney in New York as a favor for not prosecuting his brother in a stock fraud case.

It's a very tough sell to brand Christie who as U. S. Attorney oversaw the convictions or guilty pleas of some 130 public officials on corruption charges, as someone short on ethical conduct. He is, after all, someone New Jerseyans are accustomed to seeing on their television screens, standing on courthouse steps somewhere in the state after winning yet another case against a public figure who used his position to enrich himself.

His image of a crusading corruption fighter has been stamped on the public consciousness and it will be extremely difficult for the Corzine campaign to dislodge it.

It's one of those rare instances in which a clear-cut record – 130 convictions or guilty pleas – is sufficient to refute the allegations without the candidate's personal involvement. The arrests two weeks ago of mayors, legislators and various public officials on corruption charges added another layer of Teflon to Christie at Corzine's expense.

Christie has also wisely chosen to ignore the increasingly silly and shrill news releases issued by the Democratic State Committee and party chairman Joe Cryan. By not responding to Cryan, Christie has seen the wisdom in the old saw about refusing to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man.

Corzine risks reinforcing his consistent second place finish in polls if the negative flavor of his campaign continues. Conventional wisdom has it that only those who are behind go negative in an all out effort to drive the opponent's unfavorable ratings up. Pollsters are fond of using the phrase "whatever moves the numbers" to rationalize a campaign's attack style.

For his part, Christie has employed some salty language to describe what he sees as Corzine's failures on virtually every front, even calling for the Governor's resignation because of predictions that the state budget faced a massive multi-billion dollar deficit next year. The blame, he says, for the sorry state of the economy lies exclusively with Corzine, dismissing the reality that every state in the nation is suffering the devastating effects of the worst recession since 1929's Black Friday. New Jersey is not the worst basket case in the country.

Christie has also avoided offering much in the way of details about what his administration would do to confront the state's many problems, other than boiler plate language about cutting taxes, preserving and increasing homestead rebates, and providing as yet undetermined aid to education, both local and higher. How and at what cost all of this will be carried out can wait for another day presumably.

Should Corzine's campaign continue to attack Christie on ethics, it may open the door for the Republican to remind voters of the governor's personal conflicts with former state employee union leader Carla Katz. He's pledged to refrain from playing the Katz card, but the urge to respond in kind to continued assaults on his character may become so strong that he'll rescind his promise.

So, in all likelihood, the mud will fly just as it has for lo these many years, while editorial writers, academics and good government groups will bemoan the level to which the public discourse has sunk.

Theirs is another case of hope over experience.

Carl Golden served as press secretary for Govs. Kean and Whitman.

 

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