Sen. Bob Torricelli dropped out of the 2002 Senate race under a cloud of scandal. Corzine became governor after Gov. Jim McGreevey resigned following after a tangled sexual relationship with a man. Corzine, while a senator, forgave a $470,000 "loan'' to a former mistress who was head of a New Jersey public employees union. And there has been much criticism of assistance Menendez gave to a young former staffer: The New York Times reported that he "steered more than $200,000 worth of political consulting and fundraising contracts her way.''
New Jersey voters may just shrug, so inured are they to politics that have produced more than 75 corruption indictments in the last five years.
But what is called Menendez's "baggage'' muddies the message as Democrats run against Washington's supposed "culture of corruption.''
There is a third reason New Jersey Republicans think Kean can win, even though they have not won a U.S. Senate race since 1972, have averaged just 40.7 percent of the votes in the last four presidential elections and trail Democrats in voter registration by 30 percent. The reason is the Kean brand, which is redolent of noblesse oblige, a nice contrast with the state's more Tony Soprano-style political traditions. Tom Jr., Republican whip in the state Senate, is the grandson of a U.S. congressman, the great-grandson of a U.S. senator and is descended from William Livingston, New Jersey's first governor.
The fourth reason is that Corzine's honeymoon as governor lasted but a blink: He has been in office just five months but his sagging approval rating -- 39 percent -- reflects exasperation with his failure to deliver on his promise of tax relief. Kean suits the state's social liberalism by being pro-choice and pro-stem cell research, but he favors making the Bush tax cuts permanent, a message that may resonate among heavily taxed voters.
Much may ride on that resonance. A Democratic House would be a nuisance to the president. A Democratic Senate would constrict his remaining sphere for significant domestic accomplishment: With the Judiciary Committee gavel in Sen. Patrick Leahy's grasp, Democrats could block all judicial nominations from coming to a Senate vote.
In dynastic politics next door, in Pennsylvania, another former governor's son, Bob Casey, is trying to unseat Santorum. In New Jersey, Republicans fervently hope, the son will rise.
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