Republicans back Kean for Senate
Son of former New Jersey governor seeking Corzine's seat
From Phil Hirschkorn
Sen. Elizabeth Dole said Tom Kean Jr. will win the Senate seat from New Jersey next year.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The National Republican Senate Committee is backing Tom Kean Jr., the son of a former governor, in its quest to capture New Jersey's open U.S. Senate seat next year.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who chairs the GOP committee, appeared with Kean at a fundraising breakfast and a news conference to announce the endorsement.
"He can win this race. He will win this race," Dole told reporters. "He can bridge ideological gaps, partisan gaps. He's a person who builds coalitions to get things done."
Kean, 37, has been a state legislator for five years. He is currently the state Senate's Republican whip. This will be his first run for statewide office.
Kean's father, who most recently was chairman of the 9/11 commission, was New Jersey's governor from 1982 to 1990. He was re-elected with 70 percent of the vote in 1985. For the past 15 years he has been president of Drew University near Morristown.
While party control of the Statehouse has regularly changed hands, no Republican has won a U.S. Senate seat from New Jersey since 1972.
"We'll run a campaign that will be very aggressive, that will be very focused on the grass roots," Kean told reporters.
He said he has already raised $1 million toward a race that he expects will cost $12 million to $15 million.
The endorsement of the party establishment should help Kean secure the Republican nomination without a tough primary fight.
Another of the state's best-known Republicans, former Jersey City Mayor Brett Schundler, was at the breakfast to show support for Kean.
Campaign manager Evan Kozlow said the lack of a competitive Republican primary would be a plus, but ultimately is not their call.
"Senator Kean is going to control what he can control, which is his message and his campaign," Kozlow said.
Corzine to appoint successor soon
The Democratic candidate is expected to be the incumbent, who is yet to be appointed by Gov.-elect Jon Corzine, who is vacating the seat with one year left in his first term after winning election in November.
The appointee will take office next month, and a Corzine spokeswoman said the governor is planning to announce his choice this week.
Three U.S. congressmen are among those vying for the appointment.
Rep. Robert Menendez has more than $4 million in his campaign account, and Rep. Robert Andrews and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. each have around $2 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.
New Jersey's other senator is Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat who returned to the Senate in 2003 after retiring in 2001 at the end of 18 years in the upper chamber.
"This campaign is not about who I am running against," Kean said. "It's about who I am running for, and I am running for the people of New Jersey."
Kean cited homeland security and fiscal responsibility as his top issues. He has pledged to vote against any new taxes.
He said he supports abortion rights but also parental notification and restrictions on late-term abortions.
Kean declined to take a position on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, citing the pending confirmation hearings.
He chose his words carefully when asked if he would distance himself from President Bush, who lost the state to John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race and whose approval rating has sunk.
"My decisions and my votes are made in the best interests of New Jersey. That is the prism through which I will look through each and every vote in the United States Senate," Kean said.
Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, predicted in a press release that Kean would lose the race.
"The fact is that Kean has been an ineffective state legislator and his close ties to the national party will only hurt him. The outcome in 2006 will be no different than 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001 and 2000 were for the GOP," Singer said.
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