A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Torricelli's fall

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Drumthwacket, the New Jersey governor's residence, is a genteel, Greek revival masterpiece. The 11,000 square foot spread harkens back to a gentler, calmer time when it was built in 1835. But when Gov. James McGreevey asked the state's Democratic Senators, Robert Torricelli and John Corzine, to the stately manor last Sunday night it wasn't for high tea. It was political CPR.

The day before, Joel Benenson, who polls for McGreevey and Torricelli, and is trusted by both, called Torricelli: the Senate race which had been even on Thursday was now a double-digit gap. Worse, following new ethics revelations, virtually every voter knew about Torricelli's woes. Now at the 19th century mansion, the beleaguered Senator raised withdrawal as a way to keep his seat—and the Senate—in Democratic hands. It's impossible to know Torricelli's motives. Was it for the party's sake or did he think another shoe would drop? Whatever the reasons, no decision was made as Torricelli left that night for his farm in nearby Hunterdon county.

TIME has learned that the next morning, even after the withdrawal talk had leaked and set off a political firestorm, Torricelli considered staying in. "He was raring to go," says one insider. And Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who wanted Torch (the Senator's nick name) to stay in, told him to "count to 10" before making a decision. But by 1:30 PM in a conference call with Daschle, Corzine, and McGreevey, Torch came back to his original inclination to withdraw. And so, with a blue felt tip pen on a yellow legal pad, he wrote his farewell speech.

As soon as tremors of withdrawal hit the airwaves, Republican lawyer Benjamin Ginsburg's Blackberry pager began vibrating. "I'm glad it was on silent instead of beep," thought Ginsburg who was taking a sensitive deposition. The Beltway veteran, who helped George Bush prevail in the 2000 recounts, was quickly enlisted to keep Torricelli on the ballot—a supreme irony since Republicans had been demanding his resignation.

But who would replace Torricelli? The decision fell to Gov. McGreevey who controlled the state party apparatus. "First, we tried to find out who wanted it," McGreevey told TIME. A comedy of errors on Monday and Tuesday, though, prevented a seemless hand off: Bill Bradley, the ex-Senator, unreachable for hours on a vacation out west, declined. Two congressmen first expressed interest and then withdrew. When rumors that a state senator might get the nod, Washington Democrats made it clear they wouldn't fund an unknown. Meanwhile, Frank Lautenberg, the 78-year-old ex Senator, wanted in. Corzine, the reserved Wall Street millionaire, championed Lautenberg throughout the day and McGreevey, a wiry, tough pol, came to the same conclusion. For Torricelli, who literally hates Lautenberg and even threatened to cut off his "b__ls" in an infamous 1999 Democratic meeting, Lautenberg was tough to take. But, say insiders, he quickly caved. On 9 p.m. Monday night at Drumthwacket, Torch told the group, "One of the advantages of withdrwawl is," he paused, "I get to go home early." Everyone chuckled.

On Wednesday, Republicans begged New Jersey's Supreme Court to block a Lautenberg candidacy but it quickly declined to do so. On Thursday, Ginsburg marched to the U.S. Supreme Court to file an appeal. For his part, Torricelli, weirdly relaxed, stayed at his farm. He spent time on the Internet looking to adopt a St. Bernard puppy something he'd been talking about for awhile. He also told friends that he'd never run for office again and that he was eager to start joining corporate boards. In the post-Enron era it's hard to imagine too many companies rushing to hire the Torch.