New Jersey voters disagree with court decision

By Jon Dougherty

A survey of likely New Jersey voters found most believe the state Supreme Court erred in setting aside state law to allow Democrats to replace Sen. Robert Torricelli on the November ballot.

On Wednesday the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that Democrats could put former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, 78, on the ballot to fill in for Torricelli, who announced Monday he would not seek reelection to his second term, despite the fact that the deadline for changing ballots has passed.

According to a survey of 2,993 respondents statewide by Herndon, Va.-based Election Research, 54 percent disagreed with the state high court’s ruling, while most said the decision “portends doom” for Lautenberg and the Democrats in the fall election.

“It’s often been said that we’re a nation of laws and not of people,” said Gabriel Joseph, president of ccAdvertising, which owns Election Research. “Laws have no validity if they can just be set aside at the whim of a political party.”

“What’s next,” he added, “lowering the voting age if the Democrat candidate happens to be popular on MTV?”

Just over 53 percent of respondents said they would vote for Republican challenger Doug Forrester because of the decision. “This result shows Mr. Forrester has the clear majority support among respondents, plainly offsetting all Lautenberg and undecided voters, combined,” said the poll.

Four Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent make up the court.

“It is obvious that with only 33 days left in the election, this ‘replacement candidate’ issue will be a major factor throughout the remaining days of the campaign,” said Joseph.

Torricelli was dogged by an ethics scandal for much of his tenure.

Earlier this year a federal court found businessman David Chang guilty of making illegal contributions to Torricelli’s 1996 campaign. While prosecutors said they did not have enough credible evidence to indict Torricelli, ABC News reported last week that prosecutors believed Chang’s testimony about making donations of cash and “things of value” to Torricelli, including a big-screen television delivered directly to Torricelli’s home.

Internal state polls by Democrats found that Torricelli was trailing Forrester.

Forrester’s campaign said it would appeal yesterday’s ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Democrats are scrambling to keep narrow, one-member control of the Senate, given to them by the defection of former Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords to “Independent” status last year. But scandals are threatening that control.

State Republicans in Iowa have called for a criminal probe to find out who taped, then leaked a transcript of, a closed-door strategy session last month held by Rep. Greg Ganske, the challenger to incumbent Democratic Sen. Tom Harken.

Ganske has called on Harken’s staff to come clean about the leak, pledging to “continue to pursue legal remedies against the Harken campaign and its agents,” according to a statement.

In response, Harken has denied involvement, but a campaign manager and 21-year-old staffer were fired. Meanwhile, Des Moines businessman Brian Conley, 53, a former Harken staffer, has admitted to secretly taping the session, then giving the transcript to Harken’s campaign, which has said it later passed it on to an Iowa reporter.

The Washington Times reported Thursday that Conley has requested immunity from prosecution for revealing what he knows.

Conley has direct connections to Harken, GOP operatives say.

He “was a Harkin staffer in 1974, and for anybody to think something like this could have gone on without Harkin knowing is na?ve,” Marlys Popma, Iowa Republican Party executive director, told the Times.

Under Iowa and federal law, it is a crime to intercept a private conversation for purposes of injuring someone. Republicans are insisting the Ganske campaign clearly was injured.