Washington Prowler

The Torch’s Afterburn

Now it's up to the federal courts to decide whether Frank Lautenberg gets on the New Jersey ballot. If they say no, Robert Torricelli won't necessarily make life easier for Democrats by resigning. Plus: GOP disaster brewing in New Hampshire.

By 10.3.02

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HATE STAKES
Okay, so maybe The Prowler underestimated the hatred between New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli and his former colleague, now presumptive replacement, Frank Lautenberg. But now we're back to dish the unpleasantness. On Monday afternoon, New Jersey Democratic sources were divided on just who The Torch disliked more, Lautenberg or former Sen. Bill Bradley.

"I'll stand by my point that Torricelli would have preferred Lautenberg if only because Lautenberg isn't so pious that he'd badmouth Bob on the stump," says one New Jersey Democratic operative.

Well, so much for that. No sooner was Lautenberg asked to comment about his feelings on having to clean up after The Torch, Lautenberg told friends, "I'm not going to gloat." As he gloated.

The animus between the two men appears to have come to a fore back in 1999, when the two hurled insults and vulgarity at each other during a closed door Democratic Senate Caucus meeting, where Lautenberg criticized this junior senator for saying nice things about then-Gov. Christie Todd Whitman. The Torch was said at the time to have threatened Lautenberg with, shall we say, physical reprisals. (See here.)

As reported here yesterday, in meeting with New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Torricelli was willing to resign his Senate seat immediately in return for having a say in his successor. But as the clock ticked down on his early evening press conference, talks broke down, and Torricelli simply agreed to announce that he would not seek re-election.

"At that point, the picking was out of his hands. He was through," says a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffer. "Terry McAuliffe, Daschle and the state party were in control."

But Torricelli did what he could to keep other names in play. In his only interview after his announcement, Torricelli named just about every elected official in New Jersey as his choice over Lautenberg and Bradley: state Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Roberts of Camden County, Rep. Frank Pallone, Rep. Robert Andrews, and even Rep. Bob Menendez, who'd already made it clear he would not run.

The final insult for Torricelli came early Wednesday, when he was told by Daschle that he would have to hand over much of his campaign fund to Lautenberg's people to help their the campaign.

But Torricelli may get the last laugh. While it appears the federal courts will attempt to resolve the issue of whether Lautenberg can appear on the November ballot before next Wednesday (Republicans will file an appeal on yesterday's New Jersey supreme court ruling with a U.S. Appeals Court this morning), Torricelli is said by a Senate Democratic leadership source to have told colleagues that he would not be inclined to resign his seat if Lautenberg were the choice to serve out the final weeks of his term.

"That's the only bit of control that he has," confirms the DSCC source. "If the federal courts back the Republicans in New Jersey, the one option Democrats have left is Torricelli resigning, and he doesn't do that, I don't see how Forrester doesn't win with Torch's name on the ballot."

Many on Capitol Hill doubt that Torricelli would be so spiteful that he'd sink Democratic hopes for control of the Senate. But others say that Torricelli clearly stepped aside with an understanding that Lautenberg would not be the replacement candidate, and that Torricelli is mercurial enough that he'd throw a wrench in things just to make a point.

A REPUBLICAN NEW JERSEY
So while Republicans in enjoy the site of political infighting in New Jersey, imagine the fun Democrats are having up in New Hampshire as the relationship between Sen. Bob Smith called Rep. John Sununu seems well on its way to doing to Republican ambitions there that The Torch and Lautenberg are doing down south for the Dems.

First, Sununu refused to take Smith's concession phone call on election night. Then Smith refused to show up at a unity breakfast for the state GOP, and missed several Senate votes to boot. Now comes word that Smith has signed off an a write-in campaign started by loyalists there, and has thus far refused to appear at Republican events in support of Sununu.

As it stands, Sununu has a lead against opponent, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, but state GOPers fear that Smith and a write-in campaign on his behalf could throw enough controversy into the campaign to allow Shaheen to pull off an upset.

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