Former Sen. Torricelli Discusses Race for His Former Senate Seat

On the day of the special primary for U.S. Senate, former Sen. Robert Torricelli sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the race. He said he believes the best senators were former members of the House of Representatives and he contributed to three of the four Democrats in their bid for the seat.

The ultimate winner in October will sit in the same seat Torricelli did and get his old phone number in the Senate. He likened the experience to somebody moving into a former house.

Torricelli said seeing the current race doesn’t make him want to jump back into elected office though. “I meant what I said when I left. Twenty years was enough doing it. That’s a long time to be away from home. It’s a long time to be doing anything when you start it at 30,” he said.

The current election cycle to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg is “unprecedented,” according to Torricelli. “Special elections are always odd creatures. Having one in the middle of August, I’ve actually never seen anything like it,” he said.

Torricelli said he believes all the candidates have handled themselves well. “Obviously Frank Pallone is an old friend and shares my passions for the environment, which matters a great deal to me. Rush Holt is a neighbor. I’ve known him many years. I also admire his work in Congress. I think Sheila’s [Oliver] been a wonderful Assembly speaker,” he said.

The former Senator said he contributed to those three campaigns and added that he has also known Cory Booker for many years. “It’s actually a very good field for the Democratic Party,” Torricelli said.

He said he favors members of the House taking on the role of senators. “The Congress is extremely complex and you could spend a lifetime learning how to operate there. There is no question the best senators have been former members of the House who knew the ropes, they knew the rules,” Torricelli said. “You start with a running start.”

Although New Jersey voters tend to favor Democrats, Torricelli said the winner of the primary can’t discount the Republican candidate. Because this is a special election, he said poll numbers are unpredictable since the turnout is unknown. And it doesn’t help that voter fatigue may set in since the special general election is scheduled for October, just one month before the regular general election.

Torricelli said the Republicans could have chosen stronger candidates to challenge the Democrat. “I believe actually the Republicans made an enormous mistake. They’ve looked historically that they haven’t won a United States Senate seat in over 30 years, so they’re assuming they can’t,” he said. “If I had been [Joseph] Kyrillos or Tom Kean Jr., I would’ve run in this race.”

Democrats are favored for the right reasons, according to Torricelli, but special elections can distort turnout and bring out more members of parties’ bases.

Since Kyrillos and Kean are up for reelection this year as well, they would have had to give up their seats, taking a large risk of losing elected office all together. “U.S. Senate seats come up once in a generation and if that’s your goal in life, this was the opportunity,” Torricelli said. “A Republican in a special election has a far better chance than they do in a normal general election. They decided otherwise. And they have given the Democratic nominee the chance to run against presumably [Steve] Lonegan and that greatly favors the Democratic candidate.”

Whoever wins the seat in October will serve the unexpired term, which means he or she will have to run again sooner than normal.

“For somebody like me who enjoyed the process of governing but hated raising money and campaigning, it would be a nightmare to have to go through two of these elections. Incredibly, though it’s hard to believe, there are people who enjoy campaigning and raising money and going through the process. I can’t even imagine. Presumably, these people have factored that into their decision to run. But it certainly makes for a tough life,” Torricelli said. “Not only the constant campaigning, but it means you really don’t get to be a senator for a couple of years because all you’re doing is campaigning.”