BELLEVILLE, N.J. – Sen. Jon Corzine (search), candidate for governor of New Jersey, was waiting to be introduced to a crowd of 200-plus Democrats recently when the speaker said something that made him cringe.
"I know he's having a difficult time in Washington, being the minority in an unsympathetic majority," Essex County Democratic leader Phil Thigpen said of Corzine. "Maybe that's why he's coming home."
Corzine rejects any suggestion that in running for New Jnt in this time and place than in any other role."
The 58-year-old former investment banker — one of the richest and most liberal members of the Senate — is a lock to win the June 7 Democratic primary for governor and holds a double-digit lead over the closest of seven Republican contenders.
The notion that he is leaving Washington in frustration took hold after the Democrats' disappointing showing last November. Corzine, as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was in charge of his party's efforts to retake the Senate, and he raised a record $85 million, only to see the Republicans solidify their control with 55 seats.
Democrats and political analysts said the losses were not Corzine's fault, noting his job was made tougher by the retirement of several Democrats in solid GOP states. But the former chairman of the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs & Co. found himself ranking 79th in seniority among his Senate colleagues.
"Being an executive is a lot more fun than being a legislator," said Cliff Zukin, a public policy professor at Rutgers University. "You're really constrained from taking action by your colleagues, since the nature of legislators is to discuss things."
Senate President Richard Codey (search), a Democrat, has been acting governor since last fall, stepping in after Democratic Gov. James McGreevey (search) resigned over a gay extramarital affair. Codey is not running for governor.
Corzine stresses his business background as one reason he should be elected governor, saying he can pull the state out of its financial mire. According to Moody's Investor Service, New Jersey is the nation's third-most indebted state, with $29.7 billion in debts in 2004. The state's deficit is about $4 billion.
Corzine said he will concentrate on offering affordable health care and bringing down New Jersey's property taxes, which are the highest in the country and double the national average.
On the campaign trail, he calls himself "unbought and unbossed," a reference to both his own great wealth and New Jersey's image as a hotbed of corruption.
Corzine made $300 million when Goldman Sachs went public in 1999, and used $63 million of it to get elected to the Senate in 2000 — the most a Senate candidate has ever spent out of his own pocket.
In the governor's race, Corzine has passed on taking public matching funds so that he can use millions of his own dollars, and said he will spend "whatever it takes."
This time, his wealth could be less of an issue than it was in 2000, mostly because the top two Republican candidates — Douglas Forrester (search) and Bret Schundler (search) — are also millionaires. Forrester also is not taking public matching funds.
Forrester, 52, is former mayor of West Windsor, a suburb of Princeton, who lost a Senate race to Democrat Frank Lautenberg (search) in 2002. Schundler, 46, is a former mayor of Jersey City who lost a gubernatorial bid to McGreevey in 2001.
Forrester and Schundler, like the other GOP candidates, are focusing on property tax relief and eliminating waste and corruption. Republicans also hope to use Corzine's liberal voting record against him. He is for abortion rights, gun control and universal health care, and against the death penalty.
He faces two unknowns for the Democratic nomination — one a high school teacher, the other a telecommunications worker.