BETTY ANN BOWSER: The annual Metuchen, New Jersey, fall street fair is usually a quiet family event.
GROUP: We want a debate! We want a debate!
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But it turned into dramatic, political street theater, when Doug Forrester, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, showed up to confront the Democrat Frank Lautenberg. Even in a state known for rough and tumble politics, the confrontation was unusually nasty.
SPOKESMAN: A voting record that I disagree with.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But this year, almost everything about the race for the U.S. Senate has been out of the ordinary. It started off as a contest between Forrester and incumbent Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli. But after Torricelli was severely admonished by his colleagues in the Senate for ethics violations, his popularity plummeted and five weeks before the election, he pulled out.
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... for the United States Senate.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In what Republican critics called an unfair switcheroo, New Jersey Democratic leaders eventually turned to a well known, popular three-term Senator, 78-year old Frank Lautenberg, who retired in 2000. One survey showed 50 percent of likely New Jersey's voters were angry about what had happened. IBM executive Ed Colandra and his wife, Patty, who usually vote Republican, think the process was wrong.
ED COLANDRA: It seemed that it was opportunistic in the way and timing that which Mr. Torricelli appeared to realize he was going to lose, and waited until the absolute last minute to pull out of the race. And to us that just seems like an unfair situation.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Forrester campaign capitalized on those sentiments with this commercial.
LITTLE BOY (commercial): Oh man, I can't do this. I quit. Teacher.
LITTLE BOY: If I fail this test, can I have Lautenberg take it for me?
SPOKESPERSON: Torricelli and Lautenberg are teaching our children the wrong lessons.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Torricelli was so unpopular when he dropped out, that Forrester had a double digit lead in the polls.
SPOKESMAN: I'm the guy that beat Bob Torricelli.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But three weeks into this new campaign, Forrester had fallen six to 12 points behind Lautenberg.
DAVID REBOVICH: And in New Jersey, there are 1.2 million registered Democrats as opposed to only 900,000 registered Republicans.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Rider University political scientist David Rebovich says in a state that hasn't sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972, Forrester had spent too much time defining himself as not being Torricelli..
DAVID REBOVICH: With Torricelli out of the campaign, polls started indicating that upwards of 50 percent of New Jerseyans felt that they didn't know very much about Doug Forrester. If people don't know very much about you, they're not going to support you, especially in New Jersey if you are a Republican.
SPOKESMAN: So I appreciate your support.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Shelton Wiener is typical of Forrester's dilemma.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: What do you think of the Republican candidate? You're a lifelong Republican, right?
SHELTON WIENER: Yes, I want to vote for him, and all my friends want and are asking the same question: What does he stand for? Because all of this time, he's been going against Torricelli. And that's all they know him as going against Torricelli.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Forrester concedes the problem, and is now trying to engage voters on the issues.
DOUG FORRESTER, Republican Senate Candidate: We've been talking about issues of national security, protecting families, protecting our allies, lowering taxes on New Jersey's families, getting more money back from Washington.
SPOKESMAN: How you doing? Good to see you.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: He also brought in Senator John McCain to appeal to the state's large number of unaffiliated voters, about 50 percent.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I'm pleased to be here on behalf of this good and decent American, a man who I believe will represent the people of New Jersey in the United States Senate with honor and integrity. And I believe that he will be a strong, and I emphasize independent, voice for the people of New Jersey in Washington, D.C.
DAVID REBOVICH: McCain, a Republican who stands for clean government and election reform. Forrester hopes that a McCain visit will regenerate concerns that New Jerseyans did have about the last minute switcheroo of Frank Lautenberg for Bob Torricelli.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Torricelli's ethics problems also turned off the Democratic base; blacks, labor, and senior citizens were deserting in significant numbers.
SPOKESMAN: Thanks very much. We need your help.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: So Lautenberg has been busy trying to bring the faithful back, and in some quarters it seems to be working. Democrat and computer analyst Adrian Gawdiak was so disgusted with Torricelli, he wasn't going to vote at all.
ADRIAN GAWDIAK: There was a sense of relief when I heard Lautenberg was running, because I don't think that I could vote for Torricelli.
WOMAN: We're so happy you're running. Very happy.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Lautenberg has positioned himself as the front runner, doing about two events a day.
FRANK LAUTENBERG: I march in parades and see people at gatherings. They're so enthusiastic, I look over my shoulder to see who they're cheering about, because in my 18 years in the Senate, I think I was appreciated, they elected me three times, but never had that kind of enthusiasm. Now it's there because they see an alternative to Doug Forrester's do nothing program.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And whether the candidates wanted gun control to move front and center or not, it did because of the D.C. sniper.
SPOKESMAN: How do we treat guns in our society? How do we.. how do we protect ourselves?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Lautenberg has played it up with this commercial that criticizes Forrester for opposing the New Jersey ban on assault weapons.
COMMERCIAL SPOKESMAN: Forrester even opposed a ban on military style assault weapons. Forrester actually said: "It isn't any of my business whether my neighbor likes to shoot semi-automatic weapons or not." Really?
DOUG FORRESTER: I've said from the outset of this campaign nine months now, up and down the state, talking with tens of thousands of people, I'm in favor of enforcing our existing gun laws, which includes the ban against semi-automatic weapons, assault weapons. There's going to be a renewal up in 2004. I'm going to vote for that renewal.
DOUG FORRESTER: (talking to people) Hi, can I say hello. Doug Forrester running for the United States Senate. How are you?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Forrester has been critical of Lautenberg's votes against the 1991 Gulf War, votes to cut military spending, and to tax Social Security. And because Lautenberg now says he would support the President's position on Iraq Forrester has nicknamed him "Flip/Flop Frank."
DOUG FORRESTER: The good thing about running against Mr. Lautenberg is that his voting record is even worse, if possible, than Bob Torricelli's and Bob Torricelli's was pretty bad, in my estimation, on key issues that are important to New Jersey. National defense, Social Security, taxes, things like that. Doing this nine months...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But with time running out, Forrester is frustrated.
DOUG FORRESTER: It sure took a strange twist at the end.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: He starts early, and he campaigns late, here meeting voters at an evening Teaneck, New Jersey, high school football game. He's also angry that Lautenberg only agreed to two televised debates, both only days before the election. So Forrester, unexpectedly, showed up at an event he knew Lautenberg was campaigning to lay down a challenge.
DOUG FORRESTER: You said any time, any place. Let's do it now.
MAN: Senator, your podium's right here.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Forrester came prepared with two podiums and two bottles of water.
SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG: I want Doug Forrester to tell you how he feels about guns in our society, about drunks on the road, about how he contributed to our peace and security in his 49 years.
DOUG FORRESTER: The best thing I did in terms of national security is get rid of Bob Torricelli. (Cheers and applause) secondly... secondly, the most important thing I did in terms of guns and I campaigned constantly about the enforcement of gun laws, to make that we take guns out of the hands of criminals. To make sure that we have who use guns in crimes going to jail.
SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG: How about automatics? Semi automatics. He says he doesn't care if the...
DOUG FORRESTER: No, now it's time for my question. Now it's time for my question. Why did you vote seven times against the death penalty for terrorists?
SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG: I voted in 1995, before we saw these terrible instances to deprive any country, any country, that abate terrorism to be taken of any list that the United States, and to impose the death penalty where it involved terrorism. I wore a uniform, I trained to kill the enemy solider, and anyone who comes to us as a terrorist, to me, is an enemy soldier, and I have no problem killing them. You have to read Doug Forrester's column on Iraq.
DOUG FORRESTER: Why are we talking about my column? How about your votes?
SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG: I'm talking about what you said. We're talking about what you said. It's about what he said. What he said, he said that we have to forgive our enemy. That's what he said when they released prisoners that they took in Iraq, prisoners, American journalists, and he said we have to learn to forgive them. You still want to forgive Iraq?
DOUG FORRESTER: Senator... governments bring justice if they have the resources. Individuals grapple with the issue of forgiveness, an important distinction. The issue here is that government votes the government resources and how they get it to protect our families.
SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG: I want to know-- you wrote it you, you said it...
DOUG FORRESTER: And I mean it!
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The debate went on so long that finally a local politician broke it up.
SPOKESMAN: I think the best idea...
SPOKESMAN: No interference. We don't need an interference.
SPOKESMAN: ...Let's move.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Both campaigns say the debates that really count are coming soon when both will appear before a statewide audience on live television.