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This Can't Interest You

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Can I interest you in a low-interest category? Maybe the lowest of the low-interest categories—so low a low-interest category that the participants lose interest. Of course, I am talking about New Jersey politics, a category that makes marketing plumbers' force cups seem intrinsically captivating.

In a mere four years, New Jersey has had a mere four governors, a record for attention span. Count 'em: James ("Ich bin ein Gay American") McGreevey, non-gay but equally American Richard Codey, Donald DiFrancesco and Christine Whitman. (Richie C. currently holds the same "acting governor" title as did Donny Di, an earlier Trenton thespian.)

Whitman? She abdicated and went to Washington around the turn of the century to bring Garden State sensibilities to the Environmental Protection Agency. (Someone on the Bush Cabinet search committee must have seen the Sopranos when Paulie Walnuts returns from Napoli unimpressed with the gravy, the ruins and the countryside, gets into a car at Newark Airport and, in the most inspired shot in the history of episodic television, gazes out the window at the New Jersey flora—refineries, cranes, signage, storage tanks—and smiles a smile of love.)

The U.S. senators from New Jersey? Classic A.D.D. beyond the remedial ability of star coverage in the Metro section of the Times. One, Frank Lautenberg, retired in 2000, saying that being a senator in the minority party didn't strike his fancy. That fancy got re-stricken when he entered the 2002 Senate race in September because incumbent Robert Torricelli was getting trounced and the party needed a reliever who could give them a few innings, earning him a save. The other U.S. senator, Jon Corzine, is now running for governor after serving five-sixths of his Senate term, two-sixths of it in sedulous devotion to the Senate Campaign Committee to restore the Honorable Frank Lautenberg's party to the majority so as to re-enkindle Frank's octogenarian enthusiasm.

Corzine got elected to the Senate in 2000 on a platform of "fighting for" universal healthcare and universal education; Lautenberg ran on a platform that he wasn't Torricelli. Lautenberg kept his word, to the best of my knowledge; Corzine has not relinquished his Senate seat, which gives him one more year, if he loses the race for governor, to put up his dukes and "fight for" universal healthcare and universal education.

Senators Corzine and Lautenberg are deservedly rich—Corzine from heading Goldman Sachs, Lautenberg from creating and running ADP. Good thing, because New Jersey candidates buy TV from Philadelphia and New York stations, so they pay for non-voter Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York viewers. Expensive to get attention even though the gubernatorial election is in off-off-years so as not to compete with a Santorum contest in Pennsylvania or a Clinton one in New York.

Corzine is running against one Doug Forrester, who has money to give Jon a scare that he might have to serve his full Senate term instead of moving into Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion. Consumer research illuminates this race, so I did a one-on-one with an atypical housewife.

Me: So what do you think of the Corzine commercials?

AH: In the first one, he doesn't talk himself. His lips move, but the audible words come from the announcer, who sounds very breathy, like movie-trailer hypesters. The other I'd title "Corzine Speaks," as he does speak himself. Unless it's dubbed.

Me: But the content?

AH: Oh, it's all political strategy yak. In 2000, he had to run in a Democratic primary, so he played the populist on healthcare and education. Now he's in a general, so the buzz words are "middle class" and "tax cuts." He belongs to Baltusrol, so he does know the middle class. Plus, he dines at Thomas Keller's Per Se on Columbus Circle, so I guess his plan to lower the cost of living in New Jersey, which he enunciates in the second commercial, is to eat in Manhattan.

Me: The Forrester commercials?

AH: You don't see Forrester much in the Forrester commercials. Not big on product shots. One has Democrats saying they like Forrester; the second has Mrs. Forrester talking and Mr. is off-camera; the third has the Missus talking again, and Mr. does a cameo with enough face time for an upgrade to SAG principal if they paid union scale, which politicians seldom do (unions are for the nongoverning classes, you know). A minuscule mandatory end shot of Forrester turns him into a postage stamp. Surprising that he is so chubby. Over in New York, Giuliani and Koch cut out the cannolis and Szechuan dumplings in hot oil before they ran to look better on TV. Real democracy in action would be a debate between Mrs. Forrester and Mr. Corzine's announcer.

Me: If Corzine wins, he gets to name his successor in the Senate. Any ideas?

AH: Harrison Williams passed away. Experienced, he served a few terms in the Senate and one in jail. Maybe the nice basketball player could come back. What's his name? Jayson Williams? No, Bill Bradley. Went to school right here in New Jersey, too.

Me: Princeton. Studied under the eminent strategic defense theorist, Dr. van Breda Kolff.

AH: Too obvious a pick, though. Corzine should name Torricelli or McGreevey in the interest of inciting interest, if not riots. But ask him instead of me. I'm sure he'd be forthcoming.

Tom Messner is a partner at Euro RSCG in New York and a monthly Adweek columnist. He can be reached at tom.messner@eurorscg.com.