The U.S. Supreme Court missed an opportunity to set things right in American electoral politics. And because it took a pass, we're likely to have another few of these Torricelli-Lautenberg incidents — the New Jersey gambit in which a candidate trailing in the polls bows out in favor of a last-minute ringer.

I don't think the supremes are going to be able to duck the issue next time, because if the high court doesn't step in at some point, what will stop the New Jersey gambit from being the way elections are run — standard operating procedure?

After all... in nearly every election, someone is clearly running behind. If you are the head of the RNC or the DNC, you start counting noses, figuring out who is definitely going to lose and how the Congress shapes up if you throw in a ringer.

And if you are a candidate running way behind, imagine the pressure from the party bosses: Bow out now, and we'll set you up for your next run. Or in the case of an incumbent: We'll set you up in a $1 million job as a lobbyist where you can enjoy your retirement years in the piles of cash you always dreamed about as an underpaid U.S. senator or congressman.

(By the way, does this stuff work with presidential politics? If Bob Dole gets the nomination against Bill Clinton, does Dole get to keep the nomination as Election Day closes in?)

The supremes probably decided they didn't need to get involved in another election mess. They got a pretty good black eye the last time around.

But they can't duck this one forever. Someday they're going to have to rule against the New Jersey gambit. It's just too tempting for the party bosses to restrain themselves, and it's clearly wrong.

That's My Word.

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