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Flash Traffic | Political Buzz from Washington

Issue: "9/11 remembered," Aug. 17, 2002

Embattled New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli may be in real electoral trouble after all, despite months of GOP bumbling to find an effective challenger. Private polls taken over the summer show Republican businessman Doug Forrester steadily gaining ground, with the Philadelphia Inquirer suggesting the race may be a "dead heat."
Now Sen. Torricelli's effort to defuse the Senate Ethics Committee judgment against him is instead calling more attention to it. The bipartisan panel voted unanimously to "severely admonish" the New Jersey Democrat for wrongfully accepting gifts from a Democrat donor now in prison for making $53,700 in illegal contributions to Sen. Torricelli's campaign. He launched a $1 million TV campaign partially apologizing for his actions. "Although I broke no laws, it is clear to me that I did exercise poor judgment," he says directly to the camera. "A U.S. senator should hold himself to a higher standard."
That's an odd argument for reelection. The Courier-Post, southern New Jersey's largest paper, blasted the lawmaker as an embarrassment and endorsed Mr. Forrester three months before the election. Why? "[B]ecause Torricelli cannot remove the stench of corruption, even if he showers from now until Election Day."
Even comedian Jay Leno couldn't resist: "Torricelli is now running television ads apologizing for taking illegal cash and gifts from a campaign contributor. This is what I love about Washington.... They take illegal money, and then they use that money to run ads to apologize for taking illegal money."
A new poll by KYW-TV in Philadelphia finds that 49 percent of New Jersey voters that have seen Sen. Torricelli's ad have a worse opinion of him now. Only 16 percent have a more positive opinion.

With control of the House tantalizingly close, top Democrat strategists believe they have a ripe new target: Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.). The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is circulating a new poll suggesting support for Congressman Bass is only at 40 percent, while support for Democratic challenger Katrina Swett is now at 37 percent, with 23 percent of the district undecided.

GOP strategists are still anxious about the battle in Texas to replace retiring Republican Sen. Phil Gramm. Democrat Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas, has been waging a surprisingly effective campaign against Republican John Cornyn.
But after a wave of Cornyn ads and mailings, an Aug. 5 poll taken by American Viewpoint shows Mr. Cornyn ahead 46 percent to 35 percent among all registered voters, and 50 percent to 35 percent among "high propensity" voters, those most likely to show up at the polls in November.
Among moderate and independent voters, conservative Cornyn may run into trouble. Self-described moderates, for example, make up as much as half of the electorate, yet Cornyn holds a statistically insignificant 1 point lead among them. Independents, meanwhile, make up a quarter of the electorate, yet a full 36 percent are undecided, threatening to make this race enormously volatile until the end.

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Is David Bonior's political career over? Former Rep. Bonior-the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House until he resigned in January to run for governor of Michigan-lost a three-way primary battle to Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm. Ms. Granholm won 48 percent of the vote to Mr. Bonior's 28 percent. Just 43, Ms. Granholm is the first woman nominated by Democrats to run for governor. She faces GOP Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus this fall. Gov. John Engler is term-limited.
Another Michigan Democrat won't be returning to Congress in January. Four-term Rep. Lynn Rivers lost to fellow Democrat Rep. John Dingell, 59 percent to 41 percent. The fierce primary battle resulted after redistricting by the GOP-controlled state legislature eliminated Rep. Rivers's 13th District, created a new Republican-leaning congressional district, and forced the two liberals to compete in a redrawn version of Rep. Dingell's heavily Democratic seat. At 73, Rep. Dingell is one of his party's most senior, experienced, and liberal members.

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg

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