Obama says Corzine has made tough choices

July 16, 2009 6:39:58 PM PDT
President Barack Obama brought his star power to New Jersey on Thursday revive Gov. Jon Corzine's ailing re-election campaign, calling the governor a battle-tested ally who helped the White House develop a national economic recovery plan. "I'm proud to stand with a man who wakes up every day thinking about you and the future of New Jersey, and that's your governor, Jon Corzine," Obama told a boisterous crowd who waited outdoors for hours in the summer heat to hear the president speak.

The campaign appearance for Corzine, who continues to lag GOP challenger Chris Christie in early polls, was Obama's first since he took office in January. The rally was moved from New Brunswick to the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel to accommodate more of the 52,000 who signed up for tickets.

State police said the capacity crowd numbered more than 17,500. People who got their wish for tickets wildly cheered Obama's entrance to the afternoon rally.

"It's a little warm here," Obama said, tossing off his dark suit jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeves to the delight of the crowd.

A fundraiser attended by about 200 people earlier Thursday was expected to raise more than $1 million for the Democratic State Committee and Corzine's '09 campaign fund.

At both events, Obama called Corzine a leader "called to govern in extraordinary times."

Corzine "didn't run for this office on the promise that change would be easy and he certainly has not avoided what is hard," Obama said.

Obama later recited a list of Corzine's accomplishments during his 25-minute speech, saying the governor has reduced the size of government, increased the number of children who have health insurance and provided more property tax relief than his predecessors. He also used the occasion to make a pitch for his health care reform plan.

For his part, Corzine said he recognized something special in Obama the first time they met, when Obama was a freshman lawmaker and Corzine was a chief fundraiser for the Senate Democrats.

"When we sat down to share a meal at a steakhouse in Chicago, I didn't expect to be swept off my feet," Corzine said.

Recent polls find the incumbent trailing Republican challenger Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor.

A Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll out Thursday finds Christie leading Corzine by 6 percentage points among registered voters.

Pollster Patrick Murray says Obama's visit may not give Corzine the bounce he needs. Three-quarters of those surveyed say their vote for governor will be based solely on state and local issues.

Christie attempted to undercut Obama's visit by releasing a Web video in which about a dozen people say they voted for Obama but will support Christie in November.

New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states with governor's races this fall.

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