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Flash Traffic | Political Buzz from Washington

Issue: "Ghost busting," Aug. 24, 2002

A new poll confirms New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli's precarious hold on power, and Republicans are ecstatic. Torricelli and GOP challenger Douglas Forrester are now locked in a dead heat-each garnering 37 percent support-while 19 percent of voters say they're undecided, according to a Quinnipiac University survey. That represents a net 8-point drop for Torricelli, who had led 44 percent to 36 percent in the university's June 19 poll.

Most encouraging for Republicans is that only 28 percent of voters approve of Torricelli's job performance, while a whopping 49 percent disapprove. This has helped Forrester climb to a 37 percent to 27 percent lead over "The Torch" among critical independent swing voters. Still, "by a 50-36 percent margin, New Jersey voters want the Democrats to win control of the U.S. Senate" and Forrester is still not well known or understood throughout the state, notes polling director Douglas Schwartz, offering Democratic strategists at least two modest rays of hope.

Democratic strategists are betting the ranch on Colorado this year in their bid to win complete control of Congress this fall, especially after the Aug. 13 primaries. An on-the-ground look at the political landscape here explains why.

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Colorado's Senate race is a raging forest fire that threatens incumbent Republican Sen. Wayne Allard. The latest public poll here finds Allard attracting a mere 43 percent support, while liberal lawyer-lobbyist Tom Strickland posts a solid 40 percent. Libertarian Rick Stanley draws 4 percent, most of which comes out of Allard's hide.

Democrats are also enthusiastic over a possible pickup in the Fourth Congressional District, where Rep. Bob Schaffer, the conservative Fort Collins Republican, is stepping down from his seat to keep his term-limits pledge. Pro-gun rights, anti-tax, pro-life Republican state Sen. Marilyn Musgrave, 53, won her primary battle to replace Schaffer, defeating moderate attorney Jeff Bedingfield. But now Musgrave faces a formidable, politically attractive, and experienced Stan Matsunka, the 48-year-old president of Colorado's state Senate.

Democrats are fiercely determined to win back the Senate seat in Bill Clinton's home state this year. It's hard to find a Democrat official who will actually call Arkansas "Clinton's Country" on the record. But there's no question the party is doing everything it can to help state Attorney General Mark Pryor defeat the highly vulnerable incumbent GOP Sen. Tim Hutchinson, flooding the state with ads, mail, and surrogate speakers. The strategy seems to be working. A new poll taken by Democratic strategist Mark Mellman finds Pryor with 48 percent of the vote, while Hutchinson draws only 40 percent, with 12 percent undecided. Republicans privately say their polls show the race much closer, but there's no question top GOP officials are extremely worried.

Both major political parties have declared a national advertising moratorium on the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet top Democratic officials say individual campaigns are free to make their own decisions, leaving open the possibility that a campaign that does break the moratorium and runs a special 9/11 ad could garner millions of dollars of free publicity from local and national news coverage.

"Sept. 11 is a sacred day," says Steve Schmidt of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "We will not be engaging in any political activity." But Democrats seem not to have closed the door so tightly. "The committee has made a definite decision not to run 9/11 ads," says Jim Jordan, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "But it would be presumptuous of us to tell campaigns what to do." Jenny Backus of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also seemed to leave the door open. "The DCCC has made the decision not to air any advertising on 9/11 [but] we have told our candidates they should make the best decision for their campaigns."

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg


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