A JERSEY STREET FIGHT
Robert Torricelli v. Richard Zimmer, U.S. Senate,
New Jersey, 1996
Well-known radio shock jock Howard Stern just could not make up his mind. He had been hosting an on-air interview/debate/shouting match between Representatives Richard Zimmer and Robert Torricelli for the better part of an hour, yet still could not decide who he should support. He did like the trash talk Zimmer displayed toward his opponent, but he was irresistibly drawn to the low blows Torricelli gave Zimmer. Finally, Stern announced to his listening audience that he had fallen in love with both candidates and was endorsing both of them.
This 1996 campaign to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the retiring Bill Bradley has now become somewhat of a legend in New Jersey politics and in U.S. Senate election history. Due to a series of very hostile negative ads from both candidates, this campaign quickly became known as "the nastiest campaign in the country."1 Everything from "mafia ties" to radio jingles of "liar, liar, pants on fire" were featured in this very ugly campaign. Voter participation in this race was shockingly low, even among voters. Of those who turned out to vote, 10 percent refused to vote for either candidate.2
Zimmer was a conservative Republican and Torricelli a liberal Democrat, both of whom represented New Jersey congressional districts in the U.S. House. They also represented some very stark differences in public policy as well as their campaign styles. Torricelli was brash, abrasive, and aggressive (his nickname was the Torch). Zimmer was more restrained and cerebral. Yet both candidates went for the jugular in this matchup.
Zimmer accused Torricelli of nurturing ties to organized crime in the