WASHINGTON – Money helped get New Jersey's Jon Corzine (search) into the Senate. Money will determine whether he remains a rising star. As chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (search), Corzine leads the charge in dialing for dollars for Democratic candidates as the party tries to gain control of the Senate. Once merely a first-term member of the minority party who spent his own millions to win election, Corzine is now one of the more visible Democrats in Washington.
"My assumption was one of a Wall Street hotshot who's a ... zillionaire," said David Rebovich, a political science professor at Rider University. "But when you talk to him, he seems like a guy you went to high school or college with. Other people have a similar reaction — they don't see the money at all."
Corzine, 57, portrays himself as being like "anybody else," scoffing at perceptions of him as a tycoon with high-flying tastes because he was chairman of the Wall Street firm of Goldman Sachs & Co. He spent $60 million of his own money to run for the Senate in 2000.
"I love sports, I love to read," Corzine said during an interview in his Senate office. "I like a good movie and a dinner."
During a walk Thursday from his Senate office to the Capitol for a vote, Corzine greeted various people and waved to others. Sen. John D. Rockefeller (search) IV, D-W.Va., grabbed him in a bear hug.
"This man has raised $2 billion," Rockefeller said jokingly.
Corzine laughed and blushed slightly, just as he did when asked about his Wall Street success.
"I think I had a decent business sense," he said, "and some skills."
Democrats quickly tapped Corzine's business sense, often calling on him to react to President Bush's economic policies. In December 2002, he was named the campaign committee's chairman.
Corzine spends three out of four weekends a month traveling around the country, trying to get people to part with significant amounts of cash to help Democrats take control of the Senate, where Republicans have a 51-48 edge with one Democratic-leaning independent. Corzine's task is complicated by a foot injury and bursitis in his right arm.
"It's not a matter of whether you like it or you don't like it," he said. "It's a matter of whether you feel the purpose seeking to raise the resources is worth the effort — and in this particular case, there's nothing more worthwhile."
As of March 31, Corzine's committee has raised nearly $34 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. Its counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has raised $39 million.
Corzine, who hopes to raise a total of $80 million, thinks the 14 incumbent Democratic senators up for re-election on Nov. 2 will win, along with Democratic candidates in Alaska, Colorado, Oklahoma and South Carolina. He said Democrats will become the majority party in the Senate if they can win three of the five races in the South.
Republicans aren't buying it.
"There's a lot of hype and rhetoric coming from them," said Dan Allen, spokesman for the Republican committee. "We feel very good about our chances to strengthen the majority and we're bolstered by our financial advantage over them."
Jennifer Duffy, Senate editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Corzine's fund-raising and recruitment of candidates gives Democrats a shot at taking back the majority.
"They'll be a lot more competitive than we thought they would be," she said.
And if Democrats do take the majority, look for Corzine to move up the leadership ladder.
"It will be huge if they pick up seats," said Nick Acocella, editor of Politifax, a weekly electronic newsletter. "He becomes a major player."