TRENTON, N.J. – As pressure mounts on both sides of the political aisle for Gov. James E. McGreevey (search) to step down before his self-imposed deadline, U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (search) has begun to explore the idea of running to replace the embattled governor.
Corzine was discussing the possibility of being the party's candidate in a special election with state Democratic leaders Tuesday and gauging support from special interest groups, according to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity; one was from within the party and another was familiar with the calls.
The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that he began the process at state Senate President Richard Codey's home. He then spent the rest of the day in talks with Democrats split on whether McGreevey should quit now.
"There's obviously a decision to be made. There are people out there saying, `Jon Corzine should be our candidate.' It is something he is considering," Corzine spokesman David Wald told the newspaper in Wednesday's editions.
Wald said Corzine would not pressure McGreevey, a fellow Democrat, to leave before his Nov. 15 deadline. "We still have a governor. Jon Corzine is not pushing McGreevey to get out," Wald said.
Codey said little about the meeting he had with Corzine. "I spoke to Jon about the government and where we're going," Codey said.
By staying in office beyond Sept. 3, McGreevey would stave off the need for a special election to fill the balance of his term, which expires in January 2006.
McGreevey, 47, announced his resignation nearly a week ago, stunning the political establishment with the news that he was gay and had an adulterous affair with a man.
Former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman added her voice to the chorus of those demanding McGreevey step down immediately. "The minute you announce that you're going to resign, you're a lame duck and it becomes increasingly impossible to get anything done," she said.
McGreevey on Tuesday continued to resist renewed pressure to leave before November, and administration officials discounted charges that he could not effectively govern between now and then.
"Everybody who knows Gov. McGreevey knows he is a hard worker; he's been anxious to get back to work," spokesman Micah Rasmussen said.
McGreevey spent Tuesday meeting with cabinet members and his homeland security advisers and working on plans to hand over his administration to Codey, who will take over as acting governor.
If there is an election, several Republicans have expressed an interest in running, and party leaders are looking to veterans like Whitman or Tom Kean, a former two-term governor.
Kean, who headed the nation's investigation into the 2001 terrorist attacks, said he is not interested in running again. "I'm doing this now, not that," Kean said after a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee in Washington.
Whitman did not expressly rule out running in a special election. "I think it really depends on who's running on the other side," she said.
Meanwhile, attention focused again on McGreevey's acknowledgment of the extramarital affair.
U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said he was investigating the possibility of criminal wrongdoing, but he would not specify whether his office was looking into misconduct by McGreevey or claims of an extortion attempt by the man.
Also, another scandal surrounding McGreevey was expected to reach court. A federal official said a top donor to McGreevey was to plead guilty Wednesday in a case involving allegations that he had a prostitute seduce a government witness.
Charles Kushner was accused July 13 of hiring a prostitute to have sex with his own brother-in-law, who was a cooperating witness in an investigation into whether Kushner violated campaign contribution laws and committed tax fraud. Kushner is charged with conspiracy, obstructing a federal investigation and promoting interstate prostitution.