- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

The latest independent poll shows that voter support for Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, is deteriorating after a reprimand from the Senate ethics panel, and Republicans smell the pickup of a seat that was considered safely Democratic last year.
A poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found Mr. Torricelli in a dead heat with his Republican challenger, businessman Doug Forrester. The two were tied at 37 percent, with 19 percent undecided.
A June 19 Quinnipiac poll had found Mr. Torricelli at 44 percent and Mr. Forrester at 36 percent.
The Forrester camp jumped on the latest information. Forrester campaign manager Bill Pascoe issued a statement Thursday saying that the Torricelli campaign is "on life-support," and that "New Jersey voters are moving away from his campaign faster than they can dump their shares in WorldCom."
Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac institute, said "women, independents and especially Democrats have defected from his campaign in significant numbers, but only a handful overall have gone to Forrester."
The Senate Select Committee on Ethics severely admonished Mr. Torricelli at the end of July for accepting expensive gifts from a campaign donor. The panel ordered Mr. Torricelli, who had partially reimbursed businessman David Chang, to repay him as much as $2,000 for the full cost of the items.
Mr. Forrester's camp pointed out that when asked how important the ethics committee's judgment against Mr. Torricelli will be in determining their votes, 57 percent of the New Jersey voters surveyed in the poll said it would matter "some" or "a lot." The poll also found that just 29 percent said Mr. Torricelli has the integrity to serve in the U.S. Senate.
"Torricelli is in a lot of trouble," said political analyst Cliff Zukin, head of the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. "At this point, the seat is open, and that's a surprise. He should have been a very strong incumbent for re-election."
Democrats said the dip in the polls is temporary.
"We knew the race would tighten up," said Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "Given the circumstances, we expect to see a little blip in the polls and then push through this, and his numbers will start to go back up."
Mr. Torricelli's campaign manager, Ken Snyder, said his candidate had "hit an air pocket" but would win the race in the end.
He pointed out that the Quinnipiac poll also found that 59 percent believe Mr. Torricelli has the experience to be an effective U.S. senator. The poll also found that 50 percent of those surveyed want the Democratic Party to keep control of the Senate, compared with 36 percent who want Republicans to win control.
Analysts agreed that Mr. Torricelli is down but not necessarily out.
"You have to wait a couple of weeks, probably until right after Labor Day, to see where this thing settles," said Ron Faucheux, editor in chief of Politics and Elections magazine. "It's too volatile right now."
Mitch Bainwol, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, ripped into Mr. Torricelli in a statement last week, saying he has "one of the most advanced cases of arrogance this town has ever seen."
He called on Mr. Torricelli to request the release of his ethics panel testimony, all documents relating to the Justice Department's investigation of him and court documents regarding Chang. He said Mr. Torricelli should hold press conferences and town meetings across New Jersey to discuss the information and answer all questions the public has about the matter.
"Of course, I have no expectation that Mr. Torricelli will actually do any of these things," Mr. Bainwol said in the statement.
The bipartisan ethics panel has already said it will not release transcripts or other documents from the Torricelli matter because some documents were sealed by a federal judge. A federal investigation into the case ended without charges being filed.
Mr. Snyder, the Torricelli campaign spokesman, responded that Mr. Bainwol "is desperate to make this race about anything other than his Republican candidate's background of being a prescription-drug fat cat."
The Torricelli camp has focused largely on the prescription-drug issue, saying that companies such as Mr. Forrester's drive up the cost of prescription drugs, and that Mr. Forrester supports a Senate bill that will not provide seniors with enough coverage. Mr. Forrester is one of two owners of BeneCard Services Inc., a company that manages prescription-drugs benefits programs.
"He's just one of those CEOs who made more than $50 million in the last few years by driving up the cost of prescription drugs while the rest of us pay 20 percent more a year," Mr. Snyder said.

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