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Reynolds and Corzine Take Different Paths to Political Success

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) couldn’t have followed more different routes to Washington, D.C. But for the next year and a half, they have the same goal: to help win seats for their parties. [IMGCAP(1)]

So far, both legislators are receiving good marks, even though their odds of success differ sharply. Each is showing political savvy, as well as an unexpected but appreciated dose of realism.

Reynolds, 52, fits the part of the political insider like a glove. Elected to the Concord Town Council at age 24, he won a seat on the Erie County Legislature eight years later. After serving as that body’s GOP leader, Reynolds moved to the New York state Assembly, where he eventually served as Minority Leader.

A close ally of New York Gov. George Pataki (R), Reynolds was tapped by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to head the NRCC’s fundraising efforts in 2000, and the Buffalo-area Congressman won the NRCC chairmanship for this cycle. He is also a member of the House Rules Committee.

Reynolds does not pretend to be the encyclopedia of Congressional elections that his predecessor at the NRCC, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), was. But he can more than hold his own when talking about Empire State politics and the state’s 29 House districts, and he appears increasingly comfortable when talking about other GOP targets nationally.

While Reynolds attended but did not graduate from Kent State University, Corzine holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and a master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago.

Unlike the politically experienced Reynolds, Corzine, 56, was a neophyte when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000. He made his mark in business and finance, retiring as the CEO and co-chairman of Wall Street’s Goldman, Sachs & Co. shortly before he jumped into New Jersey’s open Senate seat race.

I first met Corzine almost eight months before his 2000 Democratic Senate primary against former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio and almost 13 months before the 2000 general election, and I remember thinking that I might not have ever met a candidate who appeared to know so little about campaigning.

But what he lacked in political experience, the hirsute former Wall Street executive made up in modesty and earnestness. Even though he had oodles of money, he didn’t come off as some know-it-all windbag, like countless other candidates I’d met.

Just a little more than two years after his election, Corzine is running the DSCC. In the interim, he demonstrated that he knew how to use his wealth to win his first primary test (by spending freely at the local level to earn support from Democratic county organizations) and a general election. And he had emerged as a party spokesman on financial issues.

Of the two results used to measure committee success, fundraising and candidate recruitment, fundraising is by far the more objective and easily evaluated measure.

Corzine’s DSCC has done a good job in that area, raising $5.5 million in the second quarter of this year and $10 million for the cycle. Those numbers don’t match National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraising levels, but they show that Corzine is digging his committee out of the past cycle’s hole.

Reynolds and Corzine took different roads to their committees, but they both appear to be realistic about their situations.

Instead of making outrageous claims, Corzine recently told The New York Times, “I think we just have a tough, hard competitive election coming.” And while Reynolds says he likes the lay of the political land and sounds confident (as he should) about holding the House majority in the 2004 elections, he doesn’t offer the silly, unrealistic babble that some campaign committee chairmen have uttered over the years.

In fact, when Reynolds is tossed a softball question about an obvious GOP target in New York’s politically competitive 1st district, which is currently held by freshman Rep. Tim Bishop (D), the NRCC chairman sounds stunningly reasonable.

Reynolds says that it’s up to the local, historically influential Suffolk County GOP organization to get its act together and find a strong candidate. If they do that, the NRCC would take an interest in working to regain the seat. But, Reynolds says, he and his committee aren’t going to jump into that district (even in New York) unless and until his party has a candidate who stands a chance of winning the district next year.

Corzine and Reynolds demonstrate something important about politics — there is no one right road to political success and influence in the nation’s capital. The question is whether they will handle the stresses of the cycle with equal ease, especially since it is unlikely that they both benefit from the breaks of the game.

Rothenberg Political Report

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