- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2002

Polls show Democrat Frank R. Lautenberg ahead of his Republican opponent, Doug Forrester, in the New Jersey Senate race, but Republicans are still hopeful they can pick up the seat.
Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said Mr. Lautenberg's lead in various polls is soft because he has not run a race in eight years. He said internal Republican polling has found that voters do not know where Mr. Lautenberg, a 78-year-old former senator, stands on issues.
"People don't remember very much about him," Mr. Frist said. "From the [polling] work that we have done, he is a candidate by default and is a man a lot of people in New Jersey don't know. People are just now addressing who Lautenberg is."
"I don't think [voters] ever really knew what Lautenberg was about," said New Jersey veteran Republican analyst Steve Salmore. "He really is not identified in the public with any particular major issue of the day."
Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), dismissed those opinions and said the race is "going strong" for the Democrats. "I'd still rather be where we are," she said. "[Republicans] have a guy who's been out there for months and people don't want to vote for him."
A Zogby poll of 500 likely voters conducted Oct. 9 to 11 found Mr. Lautenberg leading Mr. Forrester 48 percent to 36 percent. The margin of error was 4.5 percentage points. Another poll released Oct. 17 by Fairleigh Dickinson University had Mr. Lautenberg at 44 percent and Mr. Forrester at 38 percent. That poll surveyed 590 likely voters and had a four percentage point margin of error.
"We're in the driver's seat again," said veteran New Jersey Democratic analyst Rick Thigpen.
Mr. Lautenberg entered the race early this month after embattled Democratic Sen. Robert G. Torricelli dropped out and the New Jersey Supreme Court approved a last-minute ballot switch.
Mr. Forrester who had focused on Mr. Torricelli's ethics problems and was leading Mr. Torricelli in the polls was forced to retool his campaign to face a new opponent.
But Mr. Frist said there is a perception that Mr. Lautenberg quit two years ago because he was tired of working in Congress and bored with the job. "That doesn't appeal to people," Mr. Frist said. "They want commitment."
He said the NRSC is giving Mr. Forrester a new infusion of cash for the final three weeks of the campaign for new television ads.
The DSCC began running a new television ad in New Jersey last week warning that Mr. Forrester "sides with the [National Rifle Association] against any new gun laws, against more thorough criminal background checks for gun buyers at gun shows."
Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and chairman of the DSCC, was in New Jersey on Friday campaigning for Mr. Lautenberg.
Meanwhile, Mr. Forrester who campaigned last week with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao continued to talk about his opponent's "horrible national security record," reminding voters that Mr. Lautenberg voted against military force against Iraq in 1991 and has opposed missile defense and the death penalty for terrorists who kill Americans.
"If he had his way, Saddam Hussein would be an even bigger threat to our families and our allies," Mr. Forrester said.
Mr. Lautenberg has indicated support for the resolution recently passed by Congress that gives President Bush authority to use military force against Iraq.
The Forrester camp on Thursday began running a new television ad featuring former Gov. Tom Kean, who says Mr. Forrester, "supports women's rights and cares deeply about education and protecting our environment."
Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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