The New Jersey Purchase

Turn on a television in New Jersey these days, and more likely than not he will be looking back at you. He's all over the radio, too, and the newspapers. Jon Corzine wants to be a senator--and he's spending millions to let everyone know it.

Until about two months ago, few voters in the Garden State had ever heard of Corzine. The former CEO of Goldman Sachs was 30 points behind his Democratic primary opponent, former governor Jim Florio. But Corzine has since closed the anonymity gap in a big way, dipping into his $300 million to $400 million personal fortune to finance an unprecedented campaign spending spree. By this Tuesday's primary, he will have shelled out an estimated $36 million to beat Florio--more than any Senate primary candidate in history. Corzine has made hefty donations to civic groups and charities--and filled the coffers of local Democratic candidates. Flipping the traditional fund-raising dinner on its head, he rented a banquet hall and paid for an evening of dinner and music for 800 loyal Democratic voters. At the same time, he has launched a media blitz, spending up to $2 million a week on TV ads.

A year ago Corzine seemed like the last man in New Jersey who'd be angling for a Senate seat. A Wall Street whiz kid, he rose quickly through the ranks at Goldman Sachs and made CEO while still in his 40s. But when he was ousted from his post in a power struggle last year, the 53-year-old multimillionaire started casting around for his next big job. He was soon approached by a group of state Democratic operatives who quietly urged him to run for the seat of retiring Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Corzine seemed an appealingly unconventional candidate. Bearded and down to earth, he exuded a shy likability--a sharp contrast to the abrasive and unpopular Florio, who is still remembered for pushing through a $2.8 billion tax increase during his one term as governor. Best of all, Corzine was rich--freeing him from the drudgery of the money chase.

Tensions between the candidates have erupted into nasty flare-ups. Florio accused Corzine of trying to buy the election. The millionaire is "a walking ATM machine for the Democratic Party," groused a Florio aide. Corzine's camp shot back, accusing Florio of lying about his record. "Jon Corzine has only spent $1 for every lie Jim Florio has told in this campaign," says Corzine's campaign manager Steve Goldstein. Florio has also accused Corzine of paying private detectives to dig up dirt on him. Last week the campaign admitted to hiring the investigators, but said Corzine didn't know about it and told them to stop when he found out.

If Corzine beats Florio on Tuesday, political observers say he is favored to nab the Senate seat in the fall. Though Corzine is more liberal than most New Jersey voters--he supports affirmative action and gay marriage and opposes the death penalty--neither of his possible Republican opponents is well known statewide. And even if his GOP rival should come on strong, Corzine's still got a couple hundred million dollars left to fight back.