NJ-GOV: Corzine's Major Mistake

It’s only July, but time is fast running out on Governor Jon Corzine (D) in the New Jersey governor’s race.  Corzine trails Republican Christopher Christie by as much as 15 points in recent polling, and has only polled within ten points of the challenger twice in the last two months.  Even a visit from President Barack Obama has been unable to buoy the Corzine campaign back into making the race competitive.  Corzine needed to do something to change the dynamic of the race, and his best opportunity should have been his selection of a lieutenant governor running mate.

But rather than make a bold choice that would have signaled a new direction for the campaign, Corzine went with the safe choice, selecting veteran State Senator Loretta Weinberg.  Weinberg is qualified, but at 74 years old she hardly brings energy to the ticket.  And her 17 years in elected state government brings “Trenton insider” baggage to the campaign, exactly the image that is dogging Corzine.  The Christie campaign wasted no time in driving home these points, releasing a mock Corzine-Weinberg movie trailer titled, “You can’t change Trenton from the inside.”

In the weeks leading up to the deadline for choosing a running mate, Corzine was rumored to be considering a former contestant from “The Apprentice” for the second spot on the ticket.  Randall Pinkett was the winner of the popular reality TV show in its 2005, and is by all accounts a very accomplished person in his own right.  Pinkett holds five degrees, was a Rhodes Scholar, and is a self-made millionaire with a successful consulting company based in Newark.  But perhaps his greatest strength was his political inexperience.  Pinkett has never held elective office, a qualificaiton that may have looked good to the voters in the wake of the latest New Jersey Democratic corruption scandal.

Ironically, it was likely that coruption scandal that forced Corzine into his biggest mistake of the campaign since he decided to seek re-election.  Weinberg has a reputation in New Jersey as something of an ethics champion.  She engaged in a very public spat with the former head of the Bergen County Democratic Party, Joseph Ferriero, which Corzine helped to smooth over.  Ferriero, being a Democrat, later found himself indicted on corruption charges.

Facing a new statewide corruption scandal that is likely to bear heavily on his campaign, Corzine panicked and picked Weinberg for her reformer credentials.  Given an opportunity to shake things up, Corzine went with the powerful Trenton insider over bringing fresh ideas to state government.  This is exactly the point that the Christie campaign has been hammering Corzine on for months.  And the pounding won’t stop.

Corzine may get a bump in the polls following the Weinberg pick, but it is likely to be very short-lived.  Christie is sitting in a dominant position heading into the traditionally quiet month of August.  Over that time, perceptions of the candidates will solidify, and when the campaign reemerges in September, Corzine will find himself even further behind.  There will be no help from Washington either, as the Obama White House will be loathe to send the president anywhere near a losing incumbent govenror in his first year in office.  It isn’t over yet – far from it – but Corzine’s selection of Weinberg has made Chris Christie’s election in November as close to a sure bet as anything in recent New Jersey political history.