By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 2009 8:30 PM
Hackensack, N.J. -- Hoping to excite the moribund Democratic base that Gov. Jon Corzine desperately needs in the home stretch of a tight campaign for re-election, President Obama brought his star power here Wednesday night, embracing the troubled incumbent as a friend and valuable political ally.
"Hair kind of frizzy some times," Obama said. "His beard gets a little scraggly sometimes. It's not somebody who's going to pretend everything's okay, going to spend all his time blaming other people."
Polls show Corzine in a dead heat with Republican Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney whose longstanding lead has been reduced not by any great surge toward Corzine but by the ascendancy of a third candidate, independent Chris Daggett.
The incumbent, a multi-millionaire who served with Obama in the U.S. senate, remains saddled with approval ratings in the low 30s and his association with the state's property taxes, which are historically high but especially galling to homeowners when the housing market craters.
Obama addressed the perception head-on in a basketball pavilion at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
"I know these are challenging times and Jon knows these are challenging times," the president said. "I know folks are hurting. But I also know this: For the last four years, you've had an honorable man at the helm of this state."
Corzine looked on happily, arms folded over his chest.
"To listen to his opponent, you'd think New Jersey was the only state in America facing layoffs," Obama said. "It's not just Teaneck that's been going through tough times. It's not just New Jersey that's been going tough times. This whole country has been going through hard times."
The president remains highly popular in New Jersey, a traditionally blue state he won handily a year ago. But in an off-year election, "it's going to depend on turnout," said Andrea Rouse-Baldwin, who drove over from Jersey City to see the president. "It's going to depend on people not staying home."
The party's headliners are doing their part. Vice President Joseph Biden campaigned for Corzine in Edison on Monday, and former President Bill Clinton in New Brunswick on Tuesday. Caroline Kennedy introduced Corzine at Wednesday's rally, the second Obama has attended.
Will it all rouse the party faithful?
From Walter Carlson, 75, seated on a bleacher to the left of the podium, the answer was a grimace. "Hopefully," said the retired Episcopal clergyman.
Another hope was evident in the on-stage seating: Four rows of women -- and only women -- were arrayed behind Obama and Corzine. Many wore pink stickers reading "Mammos Matter," a slogan embraced the Corzine campaign embraced after Christie suggested that the state should no longer require health insurers to cover mammograms. The Democrat found in the statement an issue with the potential to move votes his way, according to analysts.
"As the race has tightened, it's really white women who have made up the difference," said Peter J. Woolley, executive director of Farleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll.