Q&A: What's next after Torricelli's exit?

Sen. Robert Torricelli (D) of New Jersy dropped his reelection bid Monday.

US Sen. Robert Torricelli (D) of New Jersey announced Monday evening that he will not seek reelection. His withdrawal from the race comes just weeks before crucial November elections that could hand control of the Senate to the Republicans. Mr. Torricelli has been dogged by ethics investigations, culminating this summer in an admonishment from the Senate ethics committee. Monitor Washington correspondent Gail Russell Chaddock talks with csmonitor.com about the implications of Torricelli's exit for national politics.

After this resignation, what will the scene in Washington be like tonight?

Chaddock: Lots of scrambling, especially on the allocation of national party resources for other close Senate races. President Bush is shattering fundraising records for midterm elections, and Democrats are going to have to come up with a way to keep their vulnerable candidates in the running in those critical last weeks. Torricelli's exit changes the calculus–how much depends on the quality of the candidate they can get on the ballot to replace him.

Why do you think Torricelli is resigning now, so close to the election?

Chaddock: The ethics controversy over Torricelli's acceptance of illegal gifts just wouldn't go away, and his ratings were falling faster than the stock market. The rebuke from the Senate ethics committee in July started the plunge, and the steady drip drip of information about the prosecutor's case just made it worse. Polls released over the weekend showed he was down 14 points, after leading by about the same margin in June. It probably looked like the tide was running out.

Who are the possible candidates that the governor might appoint?

Chaddock: Early names being batted around include former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (no friend of Torricelli) and Rep. Robert Menendez, who is already developing a national reputation as a very strong fundraiser. Also, Rep. Frank Pallone.

Is it possible that the governor will resign, and have his lt. governor appoint him to the Senate?

Chaddock: Yes, but these days there are also senators who would rather be governors. It's not always clear that the Senate is a promotion, especially in an evenly divided Senate, or one where your party is likely to be in the minority. It's interesting that Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is viewed as a credible candidate for president in 2004 by many of the political handicappers in this city, over a number of better-known senators. The governor may just decide to stay put.

How does this resignation change the electoral calculus in November?

Chaddock: That's what all the late nights will be about in Washington this week. Control of the Senate turns on a single seat, and there are about six close Senate races. If Democrats think this seat is still winnable, they may pour more resources into the state. If not, they may massively shift support to the five other close races. Another interesting footnote: What happens to the $6 million Torricelli has on hand for his reelection? That's about what Barbra Streisand raised for Democrats in a concert Sunday night. Torricelli can't keep it, and it could make a difference in this or other races if donated quickly to the national party.

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