Torricelli Troubles: Union, Voters Fall for Forrester

By Jeff McKay | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - A rebuke by the U.S. Senate seems to be having much more of an impact on Sen. Bob Torricelli's re-election campaign than the troubled New Jersey Democrat expected.

The latest poll on the Senate race shows GOP challenger Doug Forrester soaring to a double-digit advantage over Torricelli, and now a labor group affiliated with the New Jersey AFL-CIO is throwing its support to Forrester.

In a surprise move, Local 2-891 of the New Jersey AFL-CIO is backing Forrester. While this was not a formal endorsement by the New Jersey AFL-CIO, which has over 1,100 chapters, it is still unusual for a labor union in New Jersey to back a GOP candidate.

"I find that Doug Forrester has more in common with the working men and women of New Jersey than his rival," said Pat O'Connor, president of Local 2-891, which represents workers at Dow Chemical in Piscataway.

"Doug has listened to our concerns by visiting with us and with other workers around the state," he added.

Earlier in the week, Forrester gained the endorsement of the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police.

Ken Snyder, the campaign manager for Torricelli, downplayed Forrester's union endorsement.

"It's meaningless. This is one Local out of more than 1,100 in the state that supports Doug Forrester," said Snyder.

Snyder added that Torricelli has received the endorsement of the state teacher's union.

Poll reversal

The Forrester campaign insists that voters will take Torricelli's questionable ethics into account when it comes time to vote.

But Torricelli believes that voters will put the ethics questions behind them and focus instead on his record in the Senate.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted just over two months ago showed Torricelli with an eight-point lead, and that same poll showed a majority of voters had no opinion of Forrester.

However, that poll was conducted before the Senate rebuked Torricelli for accepting gifts from political contributor David Chang.

In a three-page letter, the bipartisan Senate ethics committee unanimously agreed that Torricelli's "actions and failure to act led to violations of Senate rules (and related statutes) and created at least the appearance of impropriety, and you are hereby severely admonished."

The Senate Select Committee on Ethics, chaired by Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, concluded that the gifts in question - a bronze statue and audio-visual equipment -- were "not consistent with Senate rules governing such loans, evidenced poor judgment, and displayed a lack of due regard for Senate rules."

Torricelli, addressing his colleagues on the Senate floor, said he wanted them to know, "I agree with the committee's conclusions, fully accept their findings, and take full personal responsibility."

He also said, "It has always been my contention that I believe that at no time did I accept any gifts or violate any Senate rule. I want to apologize to the people of New Jersey for having placed the seat in the United States Senate that they have allowed me to this position," he added.

A recent Quinnipiac poll conducted two weeks ago showed Torricelli and Forrester in a statistical dead heat. That same poll also showed that half of the voters believe Torricelli does not have the honesty or the integrity to be reelected.

The latest poll by conducted by WABC-TV shows Forrester has leaped ahead of Torricelli by 11 points.

While the Torricelli camp isn't showing concern, the Forrester campaign believes that voters have lost faith in their first-term Senator.

"Clearly, New Jersey voters still aren't buying Mr. Torricelli's non-apology apology," said Bill Pascoe, the campaign manager for Forrester. "They still do not believe him when he says he took no gifts from David Chang. Instead, Mr. Torricelli continues to deny, evade, obfuscate, confuse, conceal, and complicate."

The Forrester campaign is expected to receive a big boost when President Bush travels to New Jersey to campaign for Torricelli's GOP challenger on September 23rd.