Money Talk$ In Garden State

Leveraging his personal wealth into political success, ex-investment banker Jon Corzine crushed former governor Jim Florio in Tuesday's Democratic U.S. Senate primary in New Jersey.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Corzine had 246,472 votes, or 58 percent, while Florio had 179,059 votes, or 42 percent.

Corzine's record spending - estimated at $140 per vote he got - and voters' lingering disgust with a Florio tax hike added up to the mammoth triumph by the former Goldman Sachs executive.

At Corzine's reception at an East Brunswick, N.J. hotel, supporters chanted "Jon, Jon, Jon" and waved red, white and blue signs as Corzine entered the ballroom and greeted them with the simple exclamation: "Whoa!"

"We have only just begun. We must take our Democratic message and our Democratic team to the voters of New Jersey," Corzine said, praising Florio for a gracious phone call pledging his support.

"Make no mistake. I want to invest in America. That is what this campaign will be about," he said.

And make no mistake that Corzine's Republican opponent in the fall has only just begun to try to turn the millionaire's money into a political liability for the newly-minted Democratic Senate standard bearer.

"If he has such little regard for his own money, what regard will he have for yours, and your children's, and your parents'?" asked U.S. Rep. Bob Franks, the GOP Senate primary winner.

Corzine broke the record for the most expensive Senate campaign ever, surpassing the $30 million spent by Republican Michael Huffington during his losing 1994 Senate bid in California. A political novice running on his own dime, Corzine spent some $33 million to turn a 20-point deficit in opinion polls into his smashing win over Florio.

High Price Of A Seat

At $33 million and counting, New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine has established a new record for spending by a U.S. Senate candidate.

Here are the next five most expensive Senate races ever. Winners are denoted by an (x).

  • 1994, California, $44.4 million:
    (x)Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), $14.4 million
    Michael Huffington (R), $30 million
  • 1998, New York, $43.8 million:
    Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R), $26.2 million
    (x)Rep. Charles Schumer (D), $16.7 million
  • 1998, Illinois, $27 million:
    (x)Peter Fitzgerald (R), $17.7 million
    Sen. Carol Mosley Braun (D), $9.3 million
  • 1994, Virginia, $26.6 million:(x)Sen. Charles Robb (D), $5.9 million
    Oliver North (R), $20.6 million
  • 1998, California, $26.3 million:
    (x)Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), $15.5 million
    Matt Fong (R), $10.8 million
  • Source: Common Cause

    In the far less publicized GOP Senate race, Franks competed with state senator Bill Gormley in a tight contest, while two other Republican- Essex County Executive Jim Treffinger and Ramapo College economics professor Murray Sabrin - trailed the field. If Franks beats Corzine, he would become the first Republican to win a New Jersey U.S. Senate seat since 1972.

    On the Democratic side, Florio had complained during the primary campaign that Corzine used his riches to finance a "hostile takeover of the Democratic Party," in the form of donations to party organizations, individual campaigns and PACs. Last week, a Florio attorney wrote to the Justice Department requesting oversight of Tuesday's election lest the results be "compromised" by Corzine's free spending.

    All this Democratic infighting could have negative results for the winner, observed political reporter Jeff Pillets of The Record. Pillets said the Florio campaign effectively did the Republicans' opposition research for them by raising issues like Goldman Sachs' financing of an oil venture in Sudan during Corzine's career there. One particularly inflammatory piece of Florio campaign literature read, "Tell Jon Corzine not to profit from slavery in Africa!"

    The upshot now is that the "Democrats will have serious intra-party healing to do," said Pillets, "where the Republicans will be campaigning the next day against the winner of the Democratic primary."

    But even with the money issue, Republican candidate Franks faces an uphill battle against his wealthy Democratic opponent. Rider University political scientist David Rebovich said Franks is "sharp on the issues," but "lacks name recognition" and that puts him at "a significant financial disadvantage."

    Still, Corzine may have more than money to worry about in the general election, given his bold, broad promises to fight for universal health coverage. "Corzine is going to have a difficult time selling people on this ultraliberal platform that he really has no way to fund," said Pillets.

    In the other primary races around the country on Tuesday:


    STATE SUPREME COURT: Circuit Judge Roy Moore, who fought to keep Ten Commandments displayed in his courtroom, won four-way GOP primary for chief justice, avoiding a runoff. Sharon Yates, member of civil appeals court, unopposed in Democratic primary.

    CONGRESS: Four-term Rep. Earl Hilliard, Alabama's only black congressman since Reconstruction, easily beat two challengers.


    CONGRESS: Lawyer Jay Marcus won the GOP nomination to face Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell. Democrat Bob Simpson, an advocate for the disabled who has worked for the Legislature, advanced to a November challenge against 12-term GOP Rep. Jim Leach.


    GOVERNOR: State Auditor Mark O'Keefe beat Secretary of State Mike Cooney and Attorney General Joe Mazurek for Democratic nomination. For GOP, Lt. Gov. Judy Martz beat conservative law professor Rob Natelson. Incumbent Republican Mark Racicot barred from seeking third term.

    SENATE: Farmer Brian Schweitzer, who made high prescription medicine prices a battle cry, easily beat longtime state political figure John Driscoll in Democratic primary. He'll take on Republican Conrad Burns, trying for a third term.

    New Jersey

    CONGRESS: GOP Rep. Marge Roukema, the longest-serving woman in Congress, narrowly held off state assemblyman Scott Garrett, who came within 1,700 votes of beating her in '98. In another district, Dick Zimmer beat Mike Pappas in a battle of former Republican congressmen trying to win their way back to Washington.

    New Mexico

    SENATE: Bill Redmond, who briefly served in Congress, won three-way GOP race for nomination to face Democratic incumbent Jeff Bingaman.

    CONGRESS: Democratic incumbent Tom Udall easily held off primary challenger.

    South Dakota

    CONGRESS: Democrat Curt Hohn, manager of a water pipeline, won three-way primary and will take on two-term GOP Rep. John Thune, the state's lone House member.