- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

New Democratic candidate Frank Lautenberg has grabbed the lead in the New Jersey Senate race, less than a week after embattled Democratic Sen. Robert G. Torricelli dropped out of the race to avoid an apparent defeat.
Mr. Lautenberg leads Republican Doug Forrester 46 percent to 40 percent among potential voters, and the race is dead even at 44 percent among likely voters, according to a poll released yesterday by the Newark Star Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers polling group.
"I think in the end, we'll have Democrats and Republicans both supporting their candidates equally," said Cliff Zukin, director of the polling group. "And I think whoever wins the center will win New Jersey."
The poll found New Jersey's Republican voters are "enraged and engaged" over Democrats replacing Mr. Torricelli with Mr. Lautenberg on next month's ballot. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans will "definitely" vote, compared with just 62 percent of Democrats.
"Whether the Democrats should have been able to replace a badly damaged candidate with a more attractive one strikes some as basically unfair, and our polling shows some initial evidence of a backlash," Mr. Zukin said.
"We'll have to see how this plays out If resentment fades, Lautenberg will probably gain."
Forrester campaign manager Bill Pascoe said even after the "last-minute switcheroo and an orchestrated media circus to boost their poll numbers, the best they can do is to start the new race tied with Doug at 44 percent among likely voters."
A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday similarly found Mr. Lautenberg, a 78-year-old former senator, leading 49 percent to 45 percent among likely voters. It found 54 percent said the Democratic candidate switch was unfair but only 30 percent said they would not vote for Mr. Lautenberg as a result.
Mr. Torricelli, plagued by ethics questions, dropped out of the race last Monday after polls showed him trailing Mr. Forrester. The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Democrats could replace Mr. Torricelli with Mr. Lautenberg on November's ballot.
Republicans appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay of that decision, but the court denied their request Monday, allowing revised ballots to go forward. A U.S. District Court in New Jersey also denied a similar Republican request Monday.
"I do think its a close race. A lot of people said Lautenberg would run away with it, but I don't think that's necessarily the case," said Ron Faucheux, editor in chief of Campaigns and Elections Magazine.
Democrats are pleased with their new candidate and the change in the polls.
"He's just gotten into the race, and we're already seeing him ahead," said Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Richard McGrath, spokesman for the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, said Mr. Lautenberg has instant credibility and a record of representing attitudes of mainstream voters.
Mr. Lautenberg will continue to say Mr. Forrester is too conservative for New Jersey on issues like abortion, the environment and gun control.
Mr. Forrester, who had largely focused on Mr. Torricelli's ethics problems, has been forced to change his campaign strategy in light of his new opponent. "Clearly, Forrester has to rewrite his playbook," said Steve Salmore, a veteran GOP analyst in New Jersey.
But Mr. Forrester said Mr. Lautenberg's record on some issues is even worse than Mr. Torricelli's. In prepared remarks made Monday night in Aberdeen, N.J., Mr. Forrester said Mr. Lautenberg has the "worst possible" record on national security.
He noted that Mr. Lautenberg voted against using force in the Persian Gulf in 1991 and against the death penalty for "terrorists who murder Americans."


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