Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Clean Government' Is GOP Theme in N.J. Race ; Tom Kean Jr.'s Bid to Unseat a Democratic Senator Yields a Neck-And- Neck Contest

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Clean Government' Is GOP Theme in N.J. Race ; Tom Kean Jr.'s Bid to Unseat a Democratic Senator Yields a Neck-And- Neck Contest

Article excerpt

New Jersey Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. won't stop smiling - despite the crush of reporters aggressively lobbing questions at him.

Why did he pull out of a League of Women Voters debate? Was he calling his opponent corrupt? Was he running a smear campaign?

The candidate doesn't answer directly, sticking with the script that he thinks will win him a US Senate seat in usually "blue" New Jersey. "Corruption is a significant issue. How many more times do we have to see politicians taken out of county courthouses with raincoats over their heads?" he asks.

Mr. Kean, a state senator, is the GOP's best hope for picking off a Democratic Senate seat in November - and the outcome could determine whether Republicans retain control of the Senate. The son of a popular former Republican governor, boyish with a halting delivery, he's running neck and neck with his opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey's first Hispanic US senator.

New Jersey hasn't elected a Republican senator since 1977. But moderate Republicans can do well here, particularly on a statewide level, because 55 percent of New Jersey voters identify themselves as independents.

That huge group of swing voters is making this Senate race one of the closest in the country. Three weeks ago, polls put Kean up by 3 percentage points. By Friday, Senator Menendez had pulled ahead, 49 percent to 45 percent, according to a poll by Quinnipiac University.

"It still goes either way. There are still a lot of voters that are yet to be heard from," says Lee Miringoff of the Marist Polling Institute in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Two themes define this race. One is Kean's allegation that Menendez is too close to New Jersey's notorious political bosses, and could be corrupt himself. (As evidence, Kean cites the fact that a US attorney has subpoenaed records from a community development group that once rented office space in a building Menendez owned. …

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