Torricelli Drops out of N.J. Race; Legal Battle Looms after Senator Misses State's Deadline to withdraw.(PAGE ONE)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Torricelli Drops out of N.J. Race; Legal Battle Looms after Senator Misses State's Deadline to withdraw.(PAGE ONE)


Byline: Amy Fagan and Dave Boyer, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …

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