- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Democratic Sen. Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, who is embroiled in an ethics controversy and trailing in the polls, withdrew his re-election bid yesterday, leaving a key Senate race in flux a mere 36 days before the election.
"There are times in life you rise above self," Mr. Torricelli said at a press conference late yesterday. "I will not be responsible for the loss of the Democratic majority in the United States Senate."
Mr. Torricelli, choking up, called the decision "the most painful thing I've ever done in my life."
Names being floated for his replacement include former Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bill Bradley and current Reps. Robert Menendez and Frank Pallone Jr., said a top Democratic senatorial aide. But no definite replacement had emerged last night, and the Senate's No. 2 Democrat said Mr. Bradley already had refused to step forth.
Democrats control the Senate by just one seat, and the race is key in determining control.
The focus now turns to the courts.
The Democrats have already asked the state Supreme Court for permission to replace Mr. Torricelli's name on the ballot. State Republican Chairman Joseph Kyrillos said Republicans would file a court challenge today and planned to argue that Mr. Torricelli missed the deadline to drop out.
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 35 days remain until the Nov. 5 election, meaning Democrats would have to seek approval from the state attorney general, who is a Democrat and which would result in a court challenge from Republicans.
Mr. Torricelli's lead in the race against Republican businessman Doug Forrester vanished after the senator was severely admonished in late July for accepting expensive gifts from businessman David Chang, who is serving an 18-month prison term for making illegal donations to Mr. Torricelli's 1996 campaign.
Mr. Forrester yesterday wished Mr. Torricelli well but railed against Democrats' efforts to change the ballot.
"The people of New Jersey have had enough of playing politics with the fundamental tenets of democracy," he said. "The laws of the state of New Jersey do not contain a 'we think we're going to lose so we get to pick someone new' clause."
Bill Baroni, legal counsel for the Forrester campaign, said that absentee ballots with Mr. Torricelli's name on them have already been mailed out to overseas service members and others.
"Military people are voting," he said, adding that the Democrats' "unheard of" move to change the ballot this late in the game will not stand.
It was not clear last night how, even if the Democrats were to succeed in removing Mr. Torricelli's name from the ballot, those already-mailed-out forms would be counted.
Mr. Torricelli said he had a private meeting Sunday in the study of New Jersey's governor's mansion with Gov. James E. McGreevey and Sen. Jon Corzine, both Democrats, to determine how to handle the race.
Mr. Torricelli said he told Mr. McGreevey and Mr. Corzine in that meeting that he might lose in November. Yesterday morning, he called Mr. McGreevey and told him he was "convinced" the seat was in jeopardy.
During his press conference, Mr. Torricelli apologized to those who believed in him.
"I apologize to Bill Clinton that I did not have his strength," Mr. Torricelli said, adding that he admired Mr. Clinton's tenacity in holding on to the White House amid a series of scandals.
He also apologized "to Jim McGreevey [for not having] his determination and maybe Jon Corzine for his judgment."
Mr. Torricelli's decision to step down set off a furious scramble yesterday among Democratic leaders, first to talk him out of it and then to find a high-profile candidate to replace him.
Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said late yesterday that the situation was in flux and that a decision will be made "sooner rather than later."
Mr. Torricelli said he spoke several times on the phone with Mr. Clinton. He also spoke with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Assistant Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
According to Mr. Reid, Mr. Daschle called former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey to sound him out about replacement. But Mr. Bradley reportedly told Mr. Daschle that he is not interested.
Democratic leaders have turned their hopes to Rep. Robert Menendez and former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who showed open disdain for Mr. Torricelli when they served together in the Senate.
"Menendez would win easily, Lautenberg there are a lot of people around who could run and win," Mr. Reid said. "I'm sure both those men are interested."
Mr. Daschle said he will miss Mr. Torricelli, and then stressed the importance of the race, which he said "will play a critical role in determining whether Democrats maintain control of the U.S. Senate. I am confident the voters of New Jersey will focus on the future and the high stakes involved in this race."
Mr Reid said: "This shows the kind of person he is, a person of class."
"I think it assures us of the Senate seat in New Jersey. The candidate that's running against him has no attributes that people want to vote for," Mr. Reid said.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Mr. Torricelli "obviously had serious problems and probably was going to lose the race."
"I think we were going to win that seat, and clearly the overall atmosphere right now is very positive for Republicans to take back the majority in the Senate," Mr. Lott said. "That was just one race where our people are looking very good."
Republicans vowed to block Democratic efforts to put a new name on the ballot.
"We will fight it legally," said Ginny Wolfe, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
"The law in New Jersey is very clear: An individual may not pull his or her name from the ballot less than 51 days from the election," said Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and head of the NRSC. "The National Republican Senatorial Committee will participate in any challenge to the effort by the Democratic Party to replace Senator Robert Torricelli on the general election ballot. If there were to be exceptions to the law, it is highly unlikely that fear of losing an election would be one of them."
A new independent poll released over the weekend shows Mr. Torricelli lagging 13 points behind Mr. Forrester.
The Star Ledger-Eagleton Rutgers poll, taken Sept 19 to 25, found Mr. Forrester leading Mr. Torricelli 47 percent to 34 percent among potential voters. A poll taken by the group two weeks earlier showed the two candidates tied.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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