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Republicans Question New Jersey Electoral Ruling - 2002-10-03

Republicans are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in a Senate race that could tip the balance of power in Washington.

Republicans want the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by the New Jersey State Supreme Court allowing Democrats to replace Senator Robert Torricelli on the November election ballot.

Senator Torricelli abandoned his re-election campaign earlier this week. He had been dogged by an ethics scandal and public opinion polls showed he was badly trailing his Republican challenger, Doug Forrester.

Democrats hold a one-seat advantage in the U.S. Senate and were counting on holding the New Jersey seat as part of their election strategy.

New Jersey election law prohibits the replacement of candidates less than 51 days before the election. But the state supreme court said it was more important to give voters a choice from both major political parties.

Republicans contend the state court overstepped its authority. "But if we are going to say, in our democracy today, that at any time you can both break the law, go around the law, and when you think you are going to lose, drop out and bring in somebody new, whether it is a rock star or somebody who is just famous with high name recognition, a week out or two weeks out or three weeks out [from the election], our system of democracy is going to be quite chaotic," said Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee is coordinating the Republican effort to retake control of the Senate.

Democrats are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear the case. "I would remind all of us that election laws are not written for sporting events, for protection of a candidate or a party," said Washington State Senator Patty Murray, who is coordinating the Democrat's efforts to retain control of the Senate. "Election laws are really written for protection of the voters in the state."

Republicans argue that there is a precedent for U.S. Supreme Court involvement in the election process. They cite the high court's ruling that effectively decided the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.