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Sen. Corzine enters New Jersey governor's race

New Jersey
Jon Corzine
The Goldman Sachs Group Incorporated

(CNN) -- Sen. Jon Corzine announced Thursday he wants to be governor of New Jersey.

"I'm running for governor to lead a state government that gives citizens value for their hard-earned tax dollars and respects the values that hold us together," the 57-year-old Democrat and former investment banker told reporters.

Corzine said he would fight to improve the state's education, health care, environment and government.

"I'm going to fight like crazy to make sure that there is a view that government can be a partner in lifting up the lives of the rest of America."

The freshman senator said his experience as co-chairman and co-chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs and his four years in public office gave him the experience needed to do a good job.

"As governor of New Jersey, I want it to be one of the best places to live, to work, to go to school, to start a business, to grow old with dignity, to set a new standard of excellence."

Corzine's move comes as the influence of Senate Democrats has waned in the wake of last month's elections, which shifted more power to the Republicans, who will have 55 of the 100 seats in the chamber, and Corzine acknowledged that has affected him.

"I'm frustrated, but I don't think we're in the permanent minority, either in the Senate or in this country."

Corzine said his friends had told him he could "remain above the fray" by staying in the Senate, where he pushed for the creation of the 9/11 commission, helped tighten security at the nation's chemical facilities and expanded home-ownership opportunities for the middle class, but he rejected their advice. "That's not why I got involved in public life," he said.

He vowed to restore credibility and confidence in the state government. "The public interest will be my only interest as governor."

Corzine also pledged to be a "fiscally responsible progressive."

"We need to set a new standard of excellence in state government. Pursuing excellence has been a mantra in my life," he said.

Corzine may be a first-term senator, but he is well known in the state and has deep pockets: he spent $60 million of his own money in his Senate campaign.

Now, he said, he'll tap into his wealth, again to fund his run for governor -- forgoing public financing -- and will accept only donations of up to $500 apiece from people who have no business dealings with the state.

"There's been far too much abuse of power in this state," he said. "I think we can change that."

Corzine said he opposes privatization of Social Security and favors more U.S. troops in Iraq.

"I have a lot to learn," he said. "I'm not going to say I don't. It will be a steep learning curve. But I do know how to get to good decisions."

Though making no promises, Corzine said, "It is my absolute intent to hold the line on taxes."

Over the past three years, the state has increased taxes by $4 billion to bring the total budget to $28 billion, he said.

"Someplace in there, there ought to be refinements to priorities, there has to be waste that can be challenged."

Still, he acknowledged, the next governor will have to be prepared to make "tough choices."

Corzine said he made the decision over the Thanksgiving holiday. "I sat down with my kids and talked about it."

Some New Jersey Democrats had predicted the move almost as soon as former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who is married, announced last August that he had had an affair with a man and would leave office in November.

The state's Democrats are still trying to recover from McGreevey's controversial tenure -- and departure.

Democrat Richard Codey has been acting governor for less than a month -- and has yet to announce whether he plans to seek election to the job.

A recent Quinnipiac poll showed Corzine running well ahead of Codey -- and well ahead of GOP rivals.

Among the seven Republicans in the race are former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, whom McGreevey defeated in the Senate race in 2001, and Doug Forrester, a businessman who lost the 2002 U.S. Senate race to Frank Lautenberg.

Political observers suspect Corzine, if he wins, might then set his sights on an even bigger prize, perhaps positioning himself for an eventual presidential run.

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