Gov. Corzine launched his reelection offensive in earnest last night with aggressive rhetoric and a clear strategy: He'll tie himself to President Obama and link Republicans to former President George W. Bush.
Spurred on by Vice President Biden, whose appearance highlighted the governor's effort to associate himself with the Obama administration, Corzine made a full-throated appeal for a second term before a supportive Democratic crowd.
Corzine faced only token opposition in the Democratic party and had tried to stay above the fray. That changed with a speech in which he promised to make "the right choices" for New Jersey and characterized Republicans as "out of step" with the state's values.
"This November, voters will have a very clear choice between very different sets of values," Corzine said.
The governor is saddled with miserable approval ratings, but he said he is fighting for the same causes — education, health-care reform, the environment — as Obama, whom he called a "partner."
Biden hammered that point home. "We need Jon Corzine at the helm. Barack and I need him. America needs him," he said at the Richard J. Codey Arena. Organizers had hoped for 3,000, but the crowd appeared smaller.
Returning again and again to the phrase "the right choices" — a term he has stressed for months as he has overseen a dismal budget — Corzine said Republicans are on the wrong side of issues such as gun control, gay marriage and stem-cell research. He blamed them for bringing on the national economic crisis.
"New Jersey cannot afford to be Bush-whacked again," Corzine said.
The vice president's appearance and a fund-raiser tomorrow, headlined by the rocker Jon Bon Jovi, show that after months of trying to avoid public reelection talk, the Corzine camp will come hard out of the gates. The governor trails in early polls, but aides believe Republicans were damaged during their primary, in which Christopher J. Christie was chosen as the candidate.
Corzine has millions of his own money to spend and is running in a state where Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans. He also has a supportive White House: Biden's appearance last night was his second with Corzine in less than a month.
Corzine — known as a former Wall Street chief executive officer who made hundreds of millions of dollars as head of Goldman Sachs — drew attention to the humble parts of his background with references to his roots in rural Illinois, his service in the Marines and his near-fatal auto accident in 2007.
He stressed his stewardship during the economic crisis, pointing to his state-level economic recovery plan and said he had made the "right" decisions to cut spending. Republicans, he charged, failed to offer specific alternatives.
"I don't know about you, but I'm not about to put my trust in the same people who gave us George W. Bush," he said.
Joseph Cryan, chairman of the state Democratic Party and a Union County assemblyman, said Corzine was "excited" to challenge Republicans who have assailed his record for months.
"They're not running against ghosts anymore," Cryan said. "They're running against a real Democrat, with a real message."
Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 609-989-9016 or email@example.com.