|Sen. Robert Torricelli (Democrat)|
Despite being an incumbent in a heavily Democratic state with more money raised than any politician in New Jersey history, Sen. Robert Torricelli may still be ousted from his Senate seat this fall. Despite a record of serving New Jersey for 20 years in Congress, his campaign is spending most of its time defending Torricelli's ethics than his record.
Both the U.S. Attorney's office and the Senate Ethics Committee investigated him for accepting improper gifts from a business associate. Although neither pressed formal charges, a July 2002 admonishment from the Ethics Committee for his actions creating "at least the appearance of impropriety" has hurt Torricelli's standing among voters.
Running to unseat Torricelli, known by some as "The Torch," is Douglas Forrester, a little-known businessman with scant political experience, but poll numbers have them neck and neck coming into the final weeks of the race.
A lifelong New Jerseyan, Torricelli grew up in Franklin Lakes, a rural community in the northern part of the state. He was a self-proclaimed conservative until the middle of the Vietnam War, and has been a Democrat since. His mother, a school librarian, and his father, a local attorney, were both Democrats who devoutly believed in Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies.
He took his undergraduate and law degrees from Rutgers University and went on to a masters degree in public administration from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. At 24, Torricelli became an aide to New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne and, during the Carter administration, he served as counsel to Vice President Walter Mondale.
At age 31, he became the first person elected to federal office in New Jersey, beating an incumbent Republican congressman in the state's 9th District. He stayed in the House for 14 years until 1996, when he ran for the U.S. Senate. In that race, he bested Republican Dick Zimmer by a comfortable 10 percent margin.
Torricelli has drawn his political source from traditional Democratic quarters. Despite the fact that both candidates this fall are pro-choice, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League has backed Torricelli.
The AFL-CIO has also endorsed him. According to Newark's Star-Ledger newspaper, Torricelli has raised $25 million for his own campaigns in his 20 years in Congress, courting many big businesses including AT&T and Microsoft. The senator also formed a political action committee to help other Democrats and that group is the fourth largest among Senate members.
Torricelli has amassed a largely liberal voting record, but has also backed more conservative measures that are supported at home. He supported President Bush's tax cut in order to help move legislation making the interest on college loans tax deductible, since New Jersey has the highest college cost and the most students in private education.
The New York Times reports that many Democrats see the race as a "choice between a senator they view as ethically compromised and the risk of a Republican-controlled Senate."
A recent poll by Qunnipiac University showed more than 70 percent of voters who are likely to vote for Forrester are not doing so because of the issues, but to remove Torricelli from office.
--By Samara Aberman, Online NewsHour