Published October 01, 2002
WASHINGTON – Suffering from an ethics controversy that maintained traction all summer long, New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli dropped out of his re-election race Monday.
"I have asked attorneys to file with the Supreme Court of the United States motions to have my name removed from the general election ballot for the United States Senate. It is the most painful thing I have ever done in my life," Torricelli said on the verge of tears.
The Democrat told reporters in an afternoon press conference that the possibility of his losing was too much to bear.
"The things that I value are defended by a Democratic majority ... I could not stand the pain if any failing on my part would do damage to the things and the people I have fought for all my life," Torricelli said.
"I will not be responsible for the loss of the Democratic majority of the United States Senate. I will not allow that to happen," Torricelli added.
Response was quick from Torricelli's Republican opponent Douglas Forrester.
"No one has the right to rewrite the laws simply because he is losing in the latest public opinion polls. My fellow New Jerseyians, I say enough is enough," Forrester said.
State and national Democratic leaders met with the freshman senator Sunday night to negotiate an end to his re-election campaign, Torricelli said.
On Monday, Torricelli notified Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray and New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey that he was planning to withdraw.
"Sen. Robert Torricelli has spent himself for a worthy cause and devoted his life to public service. He has been doing his 20-year tenure in the Congress as a strong and effective representative for the people of New Jersey," McGreevey said Monday.
"In the current climate, it has, however, been almost impossible in this senatorial campaign to talk of the issues for which he cares so deeply -- issues which affect our economy, our security, for the region and the nation," McGreevey added.
In a written statement after the announcement, Daschle, D-S.D., said, "I respect Senator Torricelli's decision to end his campaign for re-election. He has been a valuable member of our caucus and an untiring fighter for the families of New Jersey ... I know this was a very difficult decision for him and his voice will be missed."
The Torch, nicknamed such for his fiery rhetoric, was "severely admonished" over the summer by the Senate ethics committee, which investigated allegations that he had accepted campaign gifts from a campaign contributor, businessman David Chang.
The scolding came after a yearlong investigation by the Justice Department led to no charges, but a referral to the Senate committee.
Chang is serving 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to making illegal campaign contributions. During his court case, he told investigators that he gave the senator Italian suits and an $8,100 Rolex watch, among other gifts, in return for Torricelli's intervention in business deals in North and South Korea.
After the Senate admonition, Torricelli apologized to voters, but Forrester, a self-made businessman, has capitalized on the issue.
A Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll issued this weekend had Torricelli down 14 points, 47-33, taken before Friday's release of documents used in Chang's court case.
The documents, which Torricelli had hoped to keep sealed until his appeal after the November election, were released after five news agencies asked for them to be unsealed, citing their newsworthiness and the fact that they are public record.
Among those documents were assertions by Chang that Torricelli would call him up whenever he needed spending money. Chang would comply with $2,000 installments of cash, he stated in the papers.
Torricelli denied on Monday that he was guilty of any charges, but said he was being refused the opportunity to campaign on the issues because of the uproar surrounding the ethics investigation. He also took a parting shot at Forrester.
"While I have not done the things that I have been accused of doing, I most certainly have made mistakes. There are those who will conclude that those mistakes bring justice to this moment because there is a price to be paid. When did we become such an unforgiving people? How did we become a society where a person can build credibility their entire life to have it questioned by someone whose word is of no value at all?" Torricelli asked.
"Doug Forrester does not belong in the United States Senate," he added.
The senator said that he would continue to serve out his term, adding that he wants to register his voice in the debate over Iraq.
"For the next 90 days, I will do my best to serve this state and our country with distinction," Torricelli said. "Our nation is approaching a great combat abroad. It is a fundamental decision, the kind of judgments in which in foreign policy I have led the Congress of the United States all of my adult life. I will give these days to making sure that judgment is done properly."
The Democrats are trying to maintain a majority in the Senate, which they hold by one seat, and Torricelli's loss is a big setback to that goal.
However, finding a replacement candidate may not be so easy. With only 36 days to the November election, the deadline for candidates to file has passed.
Democrats posit that New Jersey law allows that if a candidate resigns or dies with more than 30 days to the election, the governor can appoint a new candidate. If the death or resignation happens with less than 30 days before the election, the race can be canceled and the governor can set a new date for a special election.
However, Republicans wanting to keep Torricelli on the ballot say New Jersey elections law prohibits a swap of candidate names within 51 days of the election. Therefore, Torricelli's departure would be a forfeit.
"The National Republican Senatorial Committee will participate in any challenge to the effort by the Democratic Party to replace Sen. Robert Torricelli on the general election ballot. If there were to be exceptions to the law, it is highly unlikely that fear of losing an election would be one of them," said Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., chairman of the NRSC.
McGreevey said that no one has been named yet to run as a replacement candidate, and that New Jersey Democratic Party members will make a decision in the next 48 hours.
Daschle and Reid are actively recruiting Rep. Bob Menendez, a popular Hispanic representative and the highest ranking latino in Congress, a Democratic source said. Menendez, the number five Democrat in the House Democratic caucus, is said to be happy with his stature, and concern has been raised that his departure for the Senate would leave the House Democrats fighting to pick up another seat.
Some front-runners also named are Rep. Frank Pallone, who is said to already have had discussions with Reid, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who retired in 2000 and has had a long-standing rift with Torricelli. Corzine won his seat.
Former Sen. Bill Bradley, whose retirement opened the seat for Torricelli to win, flatly refused Daschle's offer to run for the seat, Democratic sources said.
Fox News' Carl Cameron and Major Garrett contributed to this report.