Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey (search), who took office late last year to fill out his scandal-tainted predecessor's term, announced Monday he will not enter the gubernatorial race.

"God knows this has not been an easy decision for me to reach," Codey said.

The decision by Codey, a Democrat, leaves a clear path to November's general election for U.S. Sen. Jon S. Corzine (search), the only Democrat to enter the race formally. Seven Republicans are running.

Codey during his Statehouse news conference endorsed Corzine, a first-term senator and former Wall Street executive.

Although polls showed Codey had become increasingly popular among New Jersey voters and had gained ground on Corzine, the acting governor said Corzine had built up an insurmountable advantage, pulling down a number of key party endorsements since entering the race in December.

Corzine's wealth also presented a daunting obstacle. The former chairman of Goldman Sachs (search) financed his record $63 million Senate campaign in 2000 from his own pocket.

Codey, also the state Senate president, is serving the final year of former Gov. James E. McGreevey's (search) term. McGreevey stepped down in November after declaring over the summer he was a "gay American" and had an affair.

"I have tried to bring integrity during a period of scandal. I have tried to bring calm during a period of instability," Codey said.