Just as with Clinton, it would be a mistake to write off Torricelli. Virtually all polls show him neck and neck with g.o.p. rival Doug Forrester, a former small-town mayor who made his fortune helping companies hold down prescription-drug costs, although one new survey shows Torricelli in a free fall. A Republican insider concedes, "We could easily lose this." Why? For one thing, New Jersey is increasingly Democratic. The state, which backed George Bush 56-43 in 1988, went for Al Gore 56-41 (plus 3% for Ralph Nader) in 2000. "It's not like Massachusetts, where they're baptized Democrats," says Torricelli pollster Josh Benenson. "They've become that way on the issues." When Forrester promoted education in leafy Hasbrouck Heights, all the talk was about more spending for programs like vocational training. Clinton has told Torricelli that New Jersey is the most pro gun control, pro abortion rights and pro-environment state in the U.S., and those are the themes Torricelli is pounding home.
Another plus for "the Torch": money matters even more in Jersey than almost anywhere else. He has three times as much as Forrester. To reach voters, Jersey campaigns must buy hyperexpensive New York City and Philadelphia airtime. When you add Torricelli's field army Democratic warlords and a pool of more than 800,000 current and retired union members the Senate's best fund raiser has plenty going for him.
For his part, Forrester positions himself as a genial g.o.p. moderate like Tom Kean, the well-regarded ex-Governor. But Forrester may seem too negative. Torricelli-bashing ads have helped so far, but some backers of Forrester wish he would save his attacks. "If you put out all the cards now, people won't want to play later," says g.o.p. assemblywoman Rose Heck. As if ethics weren't enough, Forrester says Torricelli is "reckless" on defense; he heatedly blames Torricelli-backed intelligence rules for the deaths of 1,000 operatives. The charge of soft-on-terror is over the top. Besides, there's no need to pour gasoline on the Torch when he keeps burning himself.