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Interview with Stuart Rothenberg

Aired October 1, 2002 - 10:32   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to let you know our breaking news once again, getting word from Congressman Robert Menendez. He says do not count him in to run for the seat that is being vacated by Senator Torricelli. Torricelli announced yesterday that he will not continue his reelection bid in light of the ethics scandal that has faced him in the Senate.
Robert Menendez one on the list of possible people who could run for that seat because, of course, already having name recognition in New Jersey. Also, a sizable war chest. However, he says he does not want to go for that Senate seat against Doug Forrester.

This all comes, as I mentioned, after Torricelli announced yesterday that he will no longer go for that reelection bid. He did that and gave a very emotional speech. Let's listen in to a little bit of that.


SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI (D), NEW JERSEY: I am a human being, and while I have not done the things that I have been accused of doing, I most certainly have made mistakes. There will be those who conclude that those mistakes bring justice to this moment, because there is a price to pay. When did we become such an unforgiving people?


KAGAN: Well, let's talk a little more about this. Let's bring in Stu (ph) Rothenberg of the "Rothenberg Political Report" to talk about what is happening, and where do the Democrats go from here -- Stu (ph), good morning.


KAGAN: People for you live for mornings like this to talk about.


KAGAN: And the news just continues to develop. I guess you heard with us that Robert Menendez says, Don't count me in. Bill Bradley is not even answering his phone. Where do the Democrats go from here?

ROTHENBERG: I think they're finding it a bit more difficult than they thought to get an appropriate nominee. Menendez, of course, has been on the fast track for House Democratic leadership. Apparently, he prefers to stay there. We know about the problems that Frank Lautenberg and Bob Torricelli have had over the years.

There is actually now talk about possibly running a state legislator, and the Democrats still have this whole problem about whether or not they can get Torricelli off the ballot...

KAGAN: Yes, I mean, let's talk about -- let's talk about that for just a second. Republicans are like, hold on a second, here. It's not just so simple that you can just move Torricelli out. They are loving this. Doug Forrester was kind of like Doug who?

ROTHENBERG: Right. I just talked to some Republican strategists who insist that their lawyers are telling them that it is going to be very difficult to get the senator off the ballot in any case. The Democrats counter that no, particularly if Torricelli actually resigns from office, that will free up the process. There is a lot of legal wrangling going on, but Daryn, there is also this possibility that the Republicans are referring to as the Carnahan scenario. If you remember a couple of years ago, Mel Carnahan died shortly before the election in a plane crash. His name remained on the ballots, but Democrats said, if you elect Mel Carnahan, his wife will be sworn in to serve for him. There is a chance that, in the worst case scenario, Torricelli could stay on the ballot but Democrats could argue, well, vote for Torricelli, but you won't get him. He'll resign. We'll give you X, Y or Z, and right now, they are trying to figure out who that X, Y, or Z might be.

KAGAN: But just one counter to that. In this day and age when people are suspicious of people breaking the rules and bending the rules and that seems to be what got Torricelli in trouble in the first place, that same kind of plan could backfire on the Democrats.

ROTHENBERG: Yes, I think there is some danger for the Democrats. It looks like some back room dealing. Once again, Bob Torricelli, who has already been accused of unethical behavior, this is his way out of politics, another kind of shady deal, and Republicans have a reasonable point here.

They have a candidate and they've been doing opposition research and message against Bob Torricelli. If he leaves the race, they have to start from scratch against whomever the Democrats are nominating. It seems unfair in that resect, so the Republicans are in this bizarre position right now of resurrecting, or keeping Torricelli alive politically so they can run against him to defeat him.

KAGAN: Kind of like, watch out what you wish for, because Forrester going on the I'm not Bob Torricelli campaign.

Want to look at the big picture here, because that is really where this becomes interesting, in the balance of power in the Senate.

Of course, New Jersey being huge, but it's not the only race that could change the balance of power. Could you point out some other races to watch?

ROTHENBERG: Sure, but we are watching a number of midway -- Midwest races in particular. Democratic incumbents in Minnesota, Paul Wellstone, has a very tough race against the former mayor of St. Paul, Norm Coleman. In South Dakota, there is a new poll out showing U.S. Senator -- Democrat Tim Johnson with a one-point lead over the Republican challenger, the at-large Congressman John Thune. That is a statistical dead heat.

In Missouri, private polling is showing that race even where Jean Carnahan, Mrs. Carnahan, who was appointed to the post, is trying to fill out the remainder of the term. She has -- she is in a dead heat against former Congressman Jim Talent, who narrowly lost the race for governor two years ago.

The Democrats have a terrific target in Arkansas where U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson, a Republican, appears to trail the state's attorney general, Mark Pryor, that is a great Democratic name in a pretty good Democratic state, and, of course, we are also watching places like Texas, where the Democrats have an interesting candidate, the former mayor of Dallas, Ron Kirk, an African-American running against a very credible Republican, the state attorney general, John Cornyn, and Democrats are still hoping to pull out a win in either a state like Colorado or maybe even South Carolina where they're looking at a race.

KAGAN: And one more question about Jean Carnahan. Isn't it an unusual situation in that race that in fact, if she loses, the other person would take over in November, as soon as the election is over, because of the special circumstances around her husband's death and this seat?

ROTHENBERG: Right. This is not a regularly scheduled election. This is a special election, so her term does not run through into January as is normally the case. Of course, the governor there is a Democrat, and he plays a important role in swearing in the new -- in deciding who is going to take over and when they are going to take over. So I think there will be some legal challenges there, as well, if the Republicans happen to win that Senate seat. They'll want to seat Jim Talent immediately, presumably to give them control of the Senate, the Democrats will try to stretch out the process, and in fact, Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate has suggested that they'll do everything they can to block that to make sure that the Republicans don't try to do anything in a lame duck session assuming there is one.

KAGAN: Sounds like it is going to be interesting, and about five weeks away, I think, we are from election day.

ROTHENBERG: It is, it is. I can't wait.

KAGAN: I know. It's your time of year. Stu (ph) Rothenberg, thanks for stopping by.



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