For a gubernatorial race in which the rhetoric has been fairly rancid, Friday night's debate in New Jersey amounted to a love-in. Democratic incumbent Governor Jon Corzine pleaded his case for another term despite major state budget problems and polls suggesting his reelection is in jeopardy, with more than half of New Jersey voters viewing him unfavorably.
At William Paterson University, Corzine told the crowd, "I'm fighting for New Jersey families every day. I've used every dollar President Obama has offered in his recovery plan. These are the choices that we have taken that reflect the values of the people of New Jersey."
But New Jersey unemployment is at 9.8 percent and taxes are at an all time high. Republican former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie has had Corzine on defense for months.
"New Jersey is broken. We know it in our hearts and we know it in our heads. We also know we have to do something to change the perilous course our state has been on. I know there can be a more hopeful future for New Jersey," said Christie in the debate sponsored by two Fox affiliates and streaming on Foxnews.com.
In recent weeks Christie's lead in the polls has dropped amid a blizzard of Corzine attack ads and the emergence of independent candidate Chris Daggett. He's a former republican who received 14 percent in a recent Quinnipiac poll.
Daggett is drawing support away from Christie, but attacks both major candidates. "You can choose politics as usual or you can choose an independent who has no ties to political parties....It's time to vote for someone, rather than against someone." Daggatt argued.
Though the economy is indisputably the top issue in the polls, personal attacks and bickering have dominated the headlines. Corzine's ads touched off a Garden State debate about Christie's girth.
Grainy black and white, unflattering images of Christie have been running on New Jersey TV stations for months. In one such ad, the narrator says, "Christie threw his weight around..." as U.S. Attorney to get out of some traffic violations. Christie denies the charge and in an interview with Fox News, sought to cast Corzine as a fat-ist, "The people of New Jersey many of whom struggle with their weight as well, and it’s a life time struggle for many of us, understand that it doesn't affect the way your work.
Or, I just wish the governor would step up to the plate and just admit that’s what he was doing."
Though Corzine's aids have publicly acknowledged intentionally trying to make Christie's weight an issue, the governor tried to distance himself from the attacks in the debate, less he be accused of bigotry toward the obese. "I don't care about Mr. Christie's weight, I do care about what matters to the state of New Jersey."
Beyond Christie's weight, Corzine has accused the republican of being insensitive to women's issues.
Pummeling Christie specifically for insurance reforms that Corzine says would get around New Jersey's state law requiring insurance companies to cover mammograms. Christie, who's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer after having a mammogram, defends his plan. "No eldest son who went through that experience with their mother would ever sign a law or allow regulation that would prevent any woman from being able to get a mammogram," Christie told Fox.
Democrats nationwide are increasingly worried that Corzine could become the first democrat to lose re-election during the Obama administration. The gubernatorial race in Virginia is the only other statewide election on November 3, but in the old dominion, incumbent democrat Time Kaine is term limited and republican Bob McDonnell has a comfortable lead in the polls against democrat Creigh Deeds. That raises the stakes for democrats in the Garden State, where reinforcements are scheduled next week.
On Monday Vice President Biden, Tuesday former President Clinton, and Wednesday President Obama will all hit the trail with Corzine. New Jersey historically votes heavily democratic. Virginia tends to elect governors from the opposite party in control of the White House during the first year of a new presidency. With 17 days until Election Day, polls suggest republicans could take over the statehouse in Richmond but the battle for Trenton will come down to the bitter end.