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Torricelli Quits Senate Race As Democrats Look for Sub

By Ronald Brownstein
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- washington

Embattled Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., withdrew from his race for re-election Monday, scrambling the national battle for control of the Senate and inciting a legal confrontation over whether New Jersey Democrats can place a new candidate on the ballot.

Battered by revelations about expensive gifts he had accepted from businessman David Chang, Torricelli was trailing in recent polls to Republican nominee Doug Forrester, manager of a pharmaceutical benefits management firm.

National Democrats considered Torricelli, who was completing his first Senate term after 14 years in the House, their most endangered incumbent.

His decision to step aside could give Democrats an improved chance of holding the New Jersey seat -- and their 50-49 Senate majority -- if they can resolve the swirl of political and legal questions about replacing him on the ballot.

“I will not be responsible for the loss of the Democratic majority in the United States Senate,” Torricelli declared in a lengthy and emotional speech in Trenton, N.J. “I will not allow it to happen.”

His voice cracking, his words teetering at times between defiance and self-congratulation, Torricelli presented an extended list of his achievements, but flatly acknowledged that the questions about his ethics had eclipsed all other campaign issues.

“I cannot talk about war and peace or economic opportunity or the environment or the sanctity of our Constitution. ... I can’t be heard,” he said. “My voice is not so important that it cannot be substituted.”

But exactly how that substitution could occur is shrouded in confusion and controversy.

Though the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, with 110 members, has the formal authority to name a successor, in practice party insiders said the decision would be made by top party officials and New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, a Democrat, within the next 48 hours.

The state Democratic Party plans to file suits Tuesday in both state and federal court to have that new nominee replace Torricelli on the New Jersey ballot, said Rich McGrath, the party’s communications director.

But Republicans instantly signaled they would fight in court any effort to place a new candidate before the voters. Alex Vogel, general counsel of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said New Jersey law barred the parties from replacing their candidates less than 51 days before the election -- which as of Tuesday is only 35 days away.

“If there were to be exceptions to the (state) law, it is highly unlikely that fear of losing an election would be one of them,” said Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., head of the NRSC.

Likewise, Forrester said any effort to put a new candidate on the ballot would “disregard the clear letter of the law.”

Speculation on the replacements Democrats would turn to focused on four names. Several sources said the top choice was former Sen. Bill Bradley, who decided against seeking re-election in 1996, creating the vacancy that Torricelli filled.