After Torricelli. (Comment)
Nichols, John, The Nation
Democrats in Washington and New Jersey sighed with relief when scandal-plagued Senator Robert Torricelli ended a doomed run for a second term. Torricelli's re-election campaign was sinking in an ethics scandal fast taking on the appearance of an episode of The Sopranos--a few days before his withdrawal, one television station aired an uninterrupted thirty-eight-minute report on charges that the New Jersey Democrat collected a Rolex watch, suits and other gifts in return for official favors. Noting that the loss of a single Democratic seat could change the Senate's balance, Torricelli painted his exit as an act of party loyalty: "I will not be responsible for the loss of the Democratic majority in the United States Senate." But whether he jumped or was pushed, there was no question that Torricelli's personal problems had become the national Democratic Party's crisis.
Torricelli's withdrawal does not, however, guarantee that the crisis has passed. New Jersey Democrats have tapped former Senator Frank Lautenberg to take Torricelli's place. But they are still battling Republican legal efforts to keep the new nominee off the November ballot. And the party's troubles do not stop at the borders of the Garden State. So closely divided is the Senate (fifty Democrats and one allied Independent versus forty-nine Republicans) and so tight are this year's Senate contests (at least eight seats, four currently Democratic and four currently Republican, fall into the too-close-to-call category) that individual stumbles have national ramifications. The switch of just one seat from Democrat to Republican would split the Senate, handing Vice President Cheney the tiebreaking vote.
In Iowa, another once-safe Democratic incumbent, Tom Harkin, is scrambling to extricate himself from a scandal over the secret taping of a strategy session of his Republican challenger. Other vulnerable Democratic incumbents include Minnesota's Paul Wellstone, Missouri's Jean Carnahan and South Dakota's Tim Johnson. While Democratic challengers like Arkansas's Mark Pryor and Colorado's Tom Strickland are giving weak Republican incumbents a challenge, GOP candidates now appear to be leading races for open seats in Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina and New Hampshire. The party will not give up on any of these races. But the need to divert money and energy to a New Jersey race that was supposed to be settled, and now perhaps to Iowa, further reduces the ability of national Democrats to aid challengers like Bill Bradbury, who is fighting to unseat Oregon's incumbent Republican, Gordon Smith, and Chellie Pingree, who seeks to oust Maine's Susan Collins. …