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Background: Bowing Out

September 30, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: Robert Torricelli had received bad news over the weekend. A Newark Star Ledger Eagleton Rutgers poll of probable New Jersey voters showed Torricelli trailing his Republican challenger businessman Doug Forrester 37 to 34 percent. Back in June that same poll had Torricelli up by 14 points. Apparently convinced that the news was not going to get any better, Torricelli today gave up his bid for re-election five weeks before election day.

SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI: 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 of the United States Senate. It is the most painful thing that I’ve ever done in my life. And for it, I apologize to everyone who has fought so hard, believed in me and all the causes that I value.

KWAME HOLMAN: Torricelli’s troubles were well publicized: Charges he failed to disclose thousands of dollars in gifts he received from businessman David Chang in exchange for political favors. Chang now is serving an 18-month sentence for illegal contributions to Torricelli’s 1996 Senate campaign. No criminal charges were ever brought against Torricelli, but in late July he was severely admonished for his activities by his colleagues on the Senate Ethics Committee. Torricelli apologized on the Senate floor.

SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI: (July 30) I want my colleagues in the Senate to know that I agree with the committee’s conclusions, fully accept their findings and take full personal responsibility. It has always been my contention that I believe that at no time did I accept any gifts or violate any Senate rules. The committee has concluded otherwise in several circumstances.

KWAME HOLMAN: But heading into his campaign for a second Senate term, Torricelli found that the stain on his record overshadowed the benefits most incumbents enjoy with voters.

SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI: This is a political campaign devoid of all issues. I cannot talk about war and peace or economic opportunity or the environment, the sanctity of our Constitution or the things that have guided my life. I can’t be heard. My voice is not so important that it cannot be substituted. If I cannot be heard, then someone else must be heard.

DOUGLAS FORRESTER: I’m Doug Forrester, the guy running against bob Torricelli.

KWAME HOLMAN: Challenger Douglas Forrester, a political unknown turned Torricelli’s ethics problem into the central campaign issue.

DOUGLAS FORRESTER: This campaign is about restoring honesty and integrity to the office of the United States Senator from New Jersey.

KWAME HOLMAN: Forrester suddenly gave their republicans their best shot at taking away a Senate seat from a Democratic incumbent.

SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI: Control of the Democratic majority in the United States Senate is now at issue, and I am a part of that issue. It will not only be decided in New Jersey but it most certainly will in part be decided in New Jersey. I could not stand the pain if any failing on my part would do damage to the things and the people that I have fought for all of my life.