Kean has also been fairly unabashed about putting the requisite distance between himself and the Washington GOP—calling for the resignations of Donald Rumsfeld and Dennis Hastert, and even showing up late (whoops!) and thereby missing a visit to the state by Dick Cheney on his behalf. At the same time, he has been a proficient and profligate chucker of mud at the visage of Menendez.
Hence the third point: Menendez has proved a too-juicy target on the question of his ethics. Most damaging, in September came word that a U.S. Attorney for New Jersey had subpoenaed records from a nonprofit anti-poverty agency that Menendez had helped secure millions of dollars in federal grants—while at the same time leasing the group a building he owns for a total of $330,000. Ever since, Kean has claimed that Menendez is “under federal criminal investigation.” And while there’s no evidence that Kean’s claim is true, the incident—and others like it—fits into a broader picture of Democratic sleaze in New Jersey that’s lately been especially revolting. The corruption conviction of former State Senate president John Lynch. Pay-for-play. McGreevey. And now Menendez, fairly or not, is suffering by association.
Like a lot of allegedly deep-blue states, New Jersey isn’t as monochromatic as Washington smart guys think.
Under normal circumstances, all this would be little more than an amusing local diversion: New Jersey being New Jersey. But because of the way the Republican cookies seem to be crumbling nationally, it may prove to be of great historical moment. In order to recapture the Senate, the Democrats need to gain six seats. At the moment, they seem poised to knock off Republican incumbents in Ohio, Montana, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania; Missouri is also within reach, and so is the open seat in Tennessee previously held by Bill Frist. If Democrats were to win all those races, Republican hopes of retaining the Senate would come down to Tom Kean Jr.
Thus are the GOP forces massing along New Jersey’s borders. Last week, the party spent about $500,000 on ads to boost Kean while intensely assessing internal polls to decide whether to cross the Rubicon and start a full-on advertising blitzkrieg. If the decision is affirmative—and I’m betting it will be—expect an air war that’s more thunderous and brutal than anything New Jersey has ever seen. When the smoke clears, it’s possible that Menendez will be left standing. But if he isn’t, and if the GOP still has control of the Senate, one thing is for certain: Jon Corzine is gonna have himself some explaining to do.