- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Democrats in New Jersey announced last night they would try to have former Sen. Frank Lautenberg replace embattled Sen. Robert G. Torricelli on the November ballot for the U.S. Senate.
"This is the state that's been so generous to me and my family," Mr. Lautenberg, 78, said at a news conference at the mansion of Gov. James E. McGreevey in Trenton.
Meanwhile, Democrats will go before the state Supreme Court this morning and petition to replace Mr. Torricelli's name on the ballot with Mr. Lautenberg's, even though the state's deadline for doing so has already passed.
A top Republican yesterday called Democrats' plans to replace Mr. Torricelli on the ballot "illegal, dishonest and undemocratic."
Mr. Lautenberg, who served for 18 years in the Senate, said he wants to put the state "first again" by running for the Senate.
Plagued by ethics charges and trailing far behind Republican challenger Doug Forrester in a recent poll, Mr. Torricelli dropped out of the race Monday. He explained he did not want to cost Democrats their one-seat majority in the Senate.
Mr. Torricelli said the scandals surrounding him prevented him from being heard on the issues.
Mr. Lautenberg raised those issues last night, pledging to make sure that Social Security is protected, a prescription drug benefit is created under Medicare, and gun control and abortion rights are promoted.
Under New Jersey law, a candidate must drop out at least 51 days before the election, and his political party may replace him if they do so by the 48th day before the election. But only 34 days remain until the Nov. 5 election, so Democrats will ask the court to grant an exception.
Angelo J. Genova, counsel for the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, said Democrats will argue that despite the 51-day requirement, "the rule of law here in New Jersey is that voters are to be given a choice in a competitive race."
"I can't believe, in this democracy, the Republicans would deny the people of New Jersey a choice," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Mr. Lautenberg was named after Democratic Rep. Robert Menendez, who had been mentioned early as a top choice, declined yesterday morning to run.
"My decision not to run for the U.S. Senate is based on my commitment to achieve a Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and my desire to become the next chairman of the House Democratic Caucus," he said.
In court today, Republicans will argue it is illegal to change the ballot this late in the game, after some absentee ballots have already been mailed to voters.
"The law is very clear," said Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "What the Democrats are trying to do is illegal, dishonest and undemocratic. The New Jersey statute clearly says 51 days. You can't change the ballot."
Under another scenario, Mr. Torricelli could resign his Senate seat and the governor could appoint a replacement. Mr. Genova said the new appointee would serve until a special election set by the governor or until the next general election in New Jersey, which is November 2003.
After Mr. Lautenberg was named last night, Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that "I think everyone is pleased" with Mr. Lautenberg.
A spokesman for Mr. Forrester, the Republican candidate, was less impressed.
"Robert Torricelli and his allies are in disarray. After two days of keeping New Jersey hanging and with none of the top-tier candidates agreeing to throw their hat in the ring, New Jersey's Democrat leaders have now settled on their fifth choice to try to replace Mr. Torricelli," said campaign manager Bill Pascoe in a statement.

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