In my first Commentary on this subject back on Tuesday [1 October], although I did touch on some of the political ramifications, I primarily dealt with the legal issues involved in construing the statute in dispute re: the attempt by Democrats to replace Senator Bob Torricelli's name with that of another candidate chosen by the Democratic State Committee, former U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg. That statute has now been given its construction- for better or for worse- by the New Jersey Supreme Court and the losing Republican side has now appealed this ruling to the United States Supreme Court. We now await the outcome of that appeal as I type this. In this Commentary, however, on the subject of New Jersey's US Senate race having been thrown into disarray by the withdrawal of Senator Torricelli from active consideration this past Monday [30 September], I want to solely concentrate on the political issues involved: namely, what are the likely reasons for- and ramifications of- the two Major Parties having taken up their respective positions on the legal side of the issue:
First, the Republicans
Personally, I cannot- for the life of me- figure out what the inherent political advantage might be to Doug Forrester's chances of winning the election by keeping Senator Torricelli's name on the ballot. As I myself noted in my previous Commentary:
In the end, of course, neither of these theoretical legal machinations much matter as regards the more practical aspects of the upcoming Senate election in my State of New Jersey itself, for- should Robert Torricelli's name be forced to remain on the ballot- those Democrats, Independents who trend Democratic and any others who would otherwise vote for a Democrat to be the next Senator from this State will, in fact, simply pull the lever, push the button or make a mark next to the Senator's name on the assumption that, even though Senator Torricelli's name appears on the ballot on the Democrat line, a possibly re-elected Senator Torricelli will not be a serving Senator after next 3 January. And there is nothing Doug Forrester or the Republican Party of New Jersey can really do about any such voting behavior in any event!
Mr. Forrester's own dilemma is that he gained on and then surpassed Senator Torricelli in the polls of late largely because Torricelli was still an active, while at the same time more and more repulsive- to the "bell curve" of the New Jersey electorate, candidate -- that is, a healthy chunk of those who shifted to Forrester and away from Torricelli over the last several weeks were not necessarily from Forrester's own Republican base (here including Independents that trend Republican) but, rather, were Democrats or Independents who usually vote for Democrats but who just couldn't bring themselves to vote for Torricelli. The Senator's withdrawal from active candidacy now allows these people to abandon any notion of voting for Forrester and "come back home"...
I suppose that the Republican side is hoping for that elusive Outrage of which 1996 GOP Presidential nominee Bob Dole inquired as to its whereabouts but I myself don't see a very significant bubble of angry New Jersey voters who would normally be inclined to trend Democratic in this US Senate election suddenly saying to themselves 'I'm going to still vote for Forrester, even though Bob Torricelli is no longer an active candidate anyway'. My take is that most of those trending Democratic and who had abandoned Torricelli for Forrester over the last several weeks (and, thus- as noted in the quotation above, provided a large share of Forrester's double-digit lead in the polls just prior to the Senator's withdrawal) are actually now quite relieved that Torricelli has taken himself out of active consideration for his Senate seat and, therefore, have no intention of now voting for Forrester. As a result, I fully expect much of Forrester's big lead in the polls earlier this week to soon have disappeared.
If my prediction of Forrester's fortunes in the tracking polls should prove correct, the legal challenges by the GOP to the Democrats now being allowed to put a new candidate on the ballot will seem to be proving to be more of a distraction for the Forrester campaign than anything else. Doug Forrester is not being heard very loudly (except, perhaps, by the "choir" receiving his glossy brochures in the mail) at the moment and he now has less and less time to get "on message" as Election Day approaches ever closer and closer.
Now, what about the Democrats?
Likewise, I am also rather puzzled by the political strategy of the Democrats in relation to this dispute. Wouldn't it have made much more sense to simply leave Senator Torricelli on the General Election ballot and then let it be known through the usual media air time that a vote for Torricelli would be a vote for an alternative Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate (one who would be appointed by Governor McGreevey- a Democrat- should an inactive Bob Torricelli appearing on the ballot then be re-elected and subsequently resign as Senator-elect)? After all, this was precisely what was done when Mel Carnahan, the incumbent Missouri Governor who was the Democratic candidate for a "Class 1" seat in the U.S. Senate in 2000, was killed in a plane crash some three weeks before Election Day (and, presumably, this is what we will see in Hawaii re: the seat of the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink, whose name remains on the General Election ballot this year): the late Mel Carnahan was subsequently elected over the incumbent Republican John Ashcroft (now U.S. Attorney General) and the resultant vacancy was filled by Mr. Carnahan's widow, Jean, pending a Special Election this coming November.
The only thing I can think of as a possible political (as opposed to legal) justification for the Democrats' position is that what is now going on here in New Jersey may, in fact, well remind a lot of voters who tend to trend Democratic in this State about what happened in Florida two years ago. It appears that it is hoped by the State's Democrats that such memories- fueled by the many and varied urban myths and legends surrounding such things as the infamous "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County, computer punch card chads in various states of undress and, ultimately, the case of Bush v. Gore itself- will the more motivate Democrats and Independents trending Democratic to come out to the polls this 5 November and, thereby, offset any effort by the Forrester campaign to exploit their own base's anger at the Democrats' efforts to formally replace Senator Torricelli with former Senator Lautenberg for similar political gain.
Then again, Money talks... and we all well know what walks!
But, in the end (and as I myself have already opined elsewhere on this very website), Politics is largely about those two five-letter words: POWER and MONEY; in this case, we are largely dealing with the latter facilitating the path to the former. I surmise that the Democrats in my State will not be able to get much more campaign money unless they have an active candidate on the ballot (Torricelli suspending his campaign also suspends his "war chest"); the GOP clearly recognizes a distinct tactical advantage in not having the Democrats able to raise money for a new candidate, particularly if that candidate also can't get his name legally printed on any new ballots, while Forrester- with his "deep pockets"- could then continue to spend like a sailor on his own campaign (Lautenberg, at last report, has indicated that he doesn't want to have to spend much- if any- of his own considerable wealth unless he is formally placed on the General Election ballot in Torricelli's place; indeed, he is most likely legally barred from doing so if Torricelli's name remains on the ballot).
Again, as I noted in my previous Commentary:
But, of course, Legality, Fairness and Rightness actually have very little to do with it... all this is- in the main- basic, clawing/scratching in the gutter, "Joizey" Politics- pure and simple