CHERRY HILL, N.J. – In a 30-second advertisement, Republican Doug Forrester (search) portrays U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (search) as unworthy of being New Jersey's next governor — without uttering a single word.
The words instead come from Forrester's wife, Andrea, who emphasizes her husband's integrity and family values in a powerful television commercial that experts say has put a big dent in Corzine's once formidable standing. The Democrat's double-digit lead has been whittled to as little as 4 percentage points in one independent poll.
National party leaders, who had been focused on the country's only other gubernatorial race in Virginia, have taken notice of New Jersey's tightening contest. President Clinton stumped for Corzine last week and the GOP plans to send Arizona Sen. John McCain to campaign for Forrester.
But New Jersey usually returns to its Democratic roots on Election Day, said Richard Semiatin, an American University political science professor, who called it "Corzine's race to lose."
"It would take a major faux pas for Corzine, I think, at this point, since he's got so much money," he said.
The race was once seen as the battle of self-made millionaires — Corzine is the former CEO of the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs and Forrester is president of a prescription drug benefits company. But it has turned into a contest over who is the most upstanding candidate, able to lower property taxes and end corruption, two top voter issues.
In the TV ad, Andrea Forrester talks about meeting her 52-year-old husband in the sixth grade, their recent 30th wedding anniversary and his integrity.
"The politicians in New Jersey have really let us down — the corruption, the deception," she says. "But Doug is going to change that. He'll be a breath of fresh air. He'll never let New Jersey families down, because he never let ours down."
Corzine's campaign, always quick to respond to attacks, was silent.
Corzine, 58, divorced his wife of more than 30 years after winning the 2000 U.S. Senate race. He is still stinging from criticism over a $470,000 loan he gave a former girlfriend who runs the state's largest worker union local — a loan he later forgave and obtained the union's endorsement.
For his part, Corzine has tried to link Forrester with President Bush, whose approval ratings in New Jersey are around 37 percent. Forrester was one of Bush's "pioneers," raising more than $100,000 for his re-election campaign.
"Doug's views are straight from the Bush playbook," Corzine said. "No matter what kind of spin the Forrester campaign puts on it the connections are pretty clear, and I think that many of the policies that the Bush administration has advocated are extreme and are out of touch with New Jersey."
Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor, said Corzine needs to distance himself from former Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey's scandal-tainted administration.
McGreevey announced in August 2004 that he was gay, had an extramarital affair with another man and would resign. He also had faced one crisis after another with campaign contributors, cabinet members and associates facing allegations of corruption.
"The problems of the McGreevey administration have risen to haunt a man not even associated with it," Baker said.