Torricelli told a press conference in Trenton, ”There are times in life when you rise above self.”
“I will not be responsible for a loss of the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate. I will not allow that to happen. There is just too much at issue.”
The Democrat’s campaign had struggled since a July admonishment by the Senate Ethics Committee for improperly accepting gifts from a campaign contributor. The ethical problems dominated debate on the campaign trail.
In the 30-minute address, Torricelli defended his record in Congress and said he could leave the Capitol knowing he had fought for his party and principles.
“Don’t feel sorry for me, I changed people’s lives,” he said.
Torricelli’s departure with just a month remaining in the campaign has left Democratic leaders scrambling to react. Gov. Jim McGreevey said the state party had petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court to strike Torricelli’s name from the ballot.
None of the officials at Monday’s announcement said anything about who might run in his place, but the names of former Senators Frank Lautenberg and Bill Bradley and several current members of the House appeared in news reports throughout the day.
McGreevey said Democrats would name a “consensus” candidate within the next 48 hours.
Republicans said they would challenge any attempt to substitute another candidate.
“This is a cynical attempt by party bosses to manipulate democracy,” Mitch Bainwol, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told the Associated Press.
Torricelli’s campaign took another blow last week when unsealed court documents revealed New Jersey businessman David Chang had made credible allegations Torricelli accepted illegal campaign gifts, but Torricelli was not charged because Chang, a convicted felon, would not have been a good witness, prosecutors said. Chang pleaded guilty to charges of illegally donating more than $50,000 to the 1996 Torricelli campaign.
“Although the government did not ultimately bring a prosecution against the public official [Torricelli], the government also found Chang’s statements concerning the conduct of the public official to be credible in most material respects,” a prosecution memo read in part.
With the Democrats holding a single-seat majority in the Senate, a loss in New Jersey could put Republicans in control of the chamber. Although Torricelli had been free-falling in most public opinion polls, his campaign officials said no Democrats pressured the senator to drop out. Torricelli himself said former President Bill Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle both urged him to stay in the race.
“The only pressure on Bob Torricelli is that which he brings upon himself to do what he thinks is right for the party and for the people of New Jersey,” the Associated Press quoted Torricelli campaign manager Ken Snyder as saying hours before the announcement.
A key political poll released over the weekend had Torricelli trailing Forrester by 13 points and garnering support from only 34 percent of those surveyed. The same survey, released in June, had the Democrat up by 14 points.