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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Maneuvering past McGreevey

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey announces Thursday that he will step down November 15.
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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
Morning Grind

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hurricane Charley has subsided and Bush vs. Kerry looks relatively calm today.

But the fun never stops in New Jersey, where Gov. Jim McGreevey today faces a growing chorus of Dems demanding he resign now, forcing a special election this fall that could create a titanic race between Sen. Jon Corzine and ex-Gov. Tom Kean and, possibly, throw a skunk into John Kerry's Garden (State) party.

McGreevey announced his resignation last week after revealing that he is gay and that he had an adulterous affair with a man.

Part of McGreevey's thinking when he said he'd step down November 15, aides say, was to make sure Corzine, who's leading his party's bid to take back the Senate, and Kerry, who's leading his party's bid to take back the White House, could finish their current assignments.

But this is Jersey, of course, where few elections pass without some performance in the theater of the absurd. Hoping to provide the requisite hijinks, Democratic "party bosses" (gotta love this state and its "bosses") spent last weekend preparing this week to push McGreevey out by the end of this month and draft Corzine.

Corzine, the former Goldman, Sachs & Co. chief executive officer, who won his Senate seat in a close 2000 race after spending $63 million of his own money, was traveling in Miami, Florida, and Puerto Rico this weekend and has not commented publicly on the race, other than to say it was "premature" to talk about his political future. He'll return home tomorrow and is expected to meet with political advisers then.

Two Democrats who are actively urging the party to unite behind Corzine are Middlesex County Democratic boss John Lynch and George Norcross, a kingpin from Camden County.

The New York Times reports that Rep. Robert Menendez also wants Corzine to run. Menendez, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, is said to be eyeing Corzine's Senate seat.

The Republican list of would-be candidates is longer, although they also have a star in their midst. It includes 2001 gubernatorial nominee Bret Schundler, 2002 Senate nominee Doug Forrester and state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos. Some party leaders are planning to lobby Kean, the most popular Republican in New Jersey and a national figure as chairman of the 9/11 commission, to run.

What next for the accuser?

So, what's next for Golan Cipel, the former homeland security aide and Israeli poet with whom McGreevey says he had a consensual affair?

In an interview with CNN yesterday, Cipel attorney Allen Lowy said his client has not decided whether to file a sexual harrassment lawsuit. When McGreevey resigned, however, Cipel "did feel the governor owned up to what he did wrong," Lowy said, adding that a decision on the suit would be made "in the near future."

Lowy said there were "assaults" by McGreevey and "improper sexual conduct" that was "highly improper and intimidating," but no "intercourse" between the two men. He also said there was a "final incident" that led to Cipel's resignation from state government in 2002. He said there is "corroborative evidence" to prove Cipel's claims of unwanted advances, which includes witnesses.

"The assault and the harassment began sometime after [McGreevey] was elected in November 2001 and lasted through the summer of 2002. You had a very powerful governor on the one hand, and you have this employee on the other side, and there were a series of sexual advances and assaults that took place and an employee that was weak."

"My client went to see him and said you have to stop this. You can't do this to me anymore. Shortly thereafter, my client was forced to resign," Lowy said.

Lowy notes that the media has inaccurately reported that Cipel was fired because he didn't have the credentials to be the head of the state's Department of Homeland Security. "He was never the head of the department," he said. "He was simply the liason between the governor's office and the department. He was also a liason between the governor and the Jewish community. The governor never allowed Golan to speak to the media."

Meanwhile, Cipel speaks. In Israel.

In an interview published Sunday by the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Cipel, echoing claims Lowy made in several published interviews, said he's not gay and said McGreevey repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances.

"It doesn't bother me that it is said I am gay, but I really am not. I'm straight," Cipel was quoted as telling Yediot. "On the other hand, to accuse me of being an extortionist? Someone here has lost his mind."

''He hit on me over and over,'' Cipel added. ''I got to a point where I was afraid to stay with him alone.''

He said his family had asked him to return to Israel, where he was born. But he said he'd stay in the United States ''until justice is done.''

Notably, McGreevey's approval rating has apparently not suffered, a new poll showed Sunday.

The governor's approval rating was 45 percent, two points higher than in a similar poll conducted two weeks earlier, according to the Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll.

The poll was conducted Thursday and Friday nights, after the governor held his press conference.

Bush, Kerry on the road

Kerry is in Ketchum, Idaho, today, while Bush speaks in Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention and then makes his 19th visit to Michigan as president.

In Cincinnati, aides say, Bush plans to lay out his plan to bring home tens of thousands of U.S. troops from bases around the world.

In what aides describe as the largest troop realignment since the end of the cold war, some 70,000 uniformed military personnel, most of them in Europe and Asia, will be redeployed to bases in the United States.

The aim of the the plan, aides say, is to strengthen the military's ability to address threats in a post-9/11 world and improve its ability to protect America. The full details of the plan will be unveiled today in Bush's speech to the veterans; he'll continue to focus on this during campaign stops this week in Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Also today, Bush-Cheney launches a new TV ad, titled "Intel," which highlights Kerry's proposal to cut intelligence funding in the year following the first World Trade Center bombing and his attendance record on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Speaker Dennis Hastert chimes in, holding a 10 a.m. ET conference call in which he'll discuss Kerry's intelligence record and call on Kerry to release the attendance records of his closed-door intelligence hearings.

The site of Bush's Michigan stop, Traverse City, last drew a presidential visit in 1975 when Gerald Ford rode in the National Cherry Festival parade. The outdoor rally at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center comes barely a month after Bush traveled to the Upper Peninsula city of Marquette, where no sitting president had appeared since William Howard Taft nearly a century earlier.

Per a Camp Kerry aide, John Edwards today goes after Bush's "antifamily" agenda during a stop in Missouri, where the Senator will criticize the administration for the favors it's doing for "special interests."

Democrats also will release a new report on links between special-interest donations, appointments of industry figures within the administration and regulations that have been rolled back or eased at the behest of corporations.

"The bottom line is that if you're an average American, it's pretty hard to get heard by George Bush and get ahead in today's economy," Kerry spokesman Phil Singer writes in a campaign memo to reporters. "But if you're a big contributor, or a powerful corporate interest, you get heard loud and clear."

Hagel for president?

And finally this morning, the 2008 presidential race begins. The Lincoln (Nebraska) Star-Journal broke one of Washington's worst-kept secrets -- that Sen. Chuck Hagel is eyeing a White House run in four years.

"If I decide to run for the presidency, or seek re-election, it will be for the right reasons, and the reasons are that I think I can make a contribution and help effect change in our country and have some influence over the direction of this country," Hagel told the AP.

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