Torricelli exits N.J. Senate race


Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 30, 2002 at 11:36 p.m.
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U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli bows his head after announcing he is dropping out of the U.S. senate race during a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Monday. New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey said the state party officials will make a decision on a replacement within 48 hours.

AP Photo/Brian Branch-Price
WASHINGTON - Sen. Robert Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat tainted by scandal, abandoned his failing re-election campaign Monday in a desperate bid to prevent the Democrats from losing their one-seat advantage in the Senate.
The decision stunned Democratic Party officials, who had become increasingly frustrated with Torricelli's plunging popularity but still expected his fierce political style to keep the race close with his Republican challenger, businessman Doug Forrester.
"I will not be responsible for the loss of the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate," Torricelli said hours later during an emotional news conference in the New Jersey state house in Trenton.
With control of the Senate hinging on the outcome of just a handful of competitive races, Democratic officials scrambled to find a new candidate and come up with legal grounds to change names on the ballot this close to the Nov. 5 election.
Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of an independent political newsletter, said Forrester could be hurt because Torricelli's withdrawal takes away his only issue, Torricelli's ethical lapses.
Torricelli began the race against Forrester with the advantage of money and name recognition in a largely Democratic state. But his edge began to fade July 30 when the Senate ethics committee admonished Torricelli for accepting expensive gifts from a business associate, David Chang.
Chang, who is serving jail time for illegal fundraising, accused Torricelli of performing political favors in exchange for the gifts, which included Rolex watches and Italian suits. Torricelli has apologized for what he said were lapses in judgment, but has also accused Chang of lying.
(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM) Several Democrats said Bradley would be the strongest replacement, but a former aide, who asked not to be named, doubted he would enter the contest.
Of the remaining three, Lautenberg enjoys statewide name recognition and the personal wealth to mount a last-minute campaign. Menendez is appealing because his congressional district is so heavily Democratic that a replacement candidate would likely win. He is also considered a powerful fund-raiser, especially in the Cuban-American community.
Democrats appeared confident they could replace Torricelli on the ballot even though the official deadline for changing candidates is 51 days before the election - a date that has already passed. The state Supreme Court added an exception in 1969 in the event of the death of a candidate.
"It's a death alright," said Neil Newhouse, a Republican strategist who polled for the Forrester campaign. "It's the political death of Robert Torricelli. The guy's a crook and he ought to be in jail."
(END OPTIONAL TRIM) Torricelli began the race against Forrester with the advantage of money and name recognition in a largely Democratic state. But his edge began to fade July 30 when the Senate ethics committee admonished Torricelli for accepting expensive gifts from a business associate, David Chang.
Chang, who is serving jail time for illegal fundraising, accused Torricelli of performing political favors in exchange for the gifts, which included Rolex watches and Italian suits. Torricelli has apologized for what he said were lapses in judgment, but has also accused Chang of lying.
Last week, a federal court judge unsealed a letter from a federal prosecutor who described Chang as "credible in most material respects." Though the letter did not reveal any new evidence, it darkened the ethics cloud over Torricelli.
On Saturday, the Newark Star-Ledger published a public opinion poll that showed Torricelli 13 percentage points behind Forrester.

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