By Josh Margolin/Statehouse Bureau
November 04, 2009, 7:02PM
TRENTON -- It was the great urban legend of the campaign: With the White House worried, a frustrated Gov. Jon Corzine was having second thoughts and came close to aborting his re-election bid.
Now, Senate President Richard Codey says it happened.
In an interview, Codey (D-Essex) detailed a series of summer phone calls, meetings and the results of a confidential poll that nearly threw New Jersey’s governor’s race into the type of turmoil last seen when then-Sen. Robert Torricelli dropped his re-election bid in final weeks of the 2002 campaign.
Codey made his comments hours after Corzine conceded defeat in Tuesday’s election. He previously refused to discuss it, saying he did not want to affect the outcome of the race. His account was confirmed by other key players, including Torricelli, who advised Corzine during the campaign.
Corzine’s camp and the White House declined to comment.
Codey said he got a call from the White House a week after Vice President Joe Biden appeared at Corzine’s poorly attended primary night kickoff rally in West Orange in June. "They wanted to talk about what’s going on with the governor’s race," he said. "They would call me every week, every two weeks."
By July, Codey said there was growing concern from the president’s advisers as Corzine’s polls declined even as he poured money into anti-Christie ads. It grew worse after 44 arrests on July 23 in a corruption and money-laundering case.
Corzine privately mused to the White House he was having second thoughts about continuing his campaign, Codey said.
"He was, mentally, as low as you can get," Codey said of Corzine, even before July 23. "Then this ... hit. It was understandable he was having a moment where he was saying ‘to hell with this.’"
Codey said White House political director Patrick Gaspard called him and expressed "great concern about the governor’s race, (Corzine’s) lack of support amongst Democrats and whether or not he would be able to overcome it. He never criticized Jon personally. But he said he was meeting with Obama and ‘the president wants to know if you might run if, in fact, Mr. Corzine got out.’ Can he tell the president ‘Yes.’"
Codey said Gaspard detailed an internal poll that showed Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. Frank Pallone about the same as Corzine, but Codey leading Christie by double digits.
"I told Gaspard I was going to be seeing Mr. Corzine in Trenton. I told him I felt duty-bound in terms of being a gentleman to tell Corzine. I sat with Corzine. I told him what I knew. I said ‘as a friend, I just wanted you to know.’ I said ‘bottom line is you’re the decision-maker. You want out, just do me a favor let me know as soon as possible. If you’re going to stay in there, I’m with you.’"
"I did not hear back from the White House."