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Democrats Fighting Hard to Retain Senate Majority - 2002-10-01

With mid-term elections just five weeks away, Democrats are fighting hard to hang on to their one-vote majority in the U.S. Senate. Now Robert Torricelli, a Democratic incumbent from New Jersey, has announced he is dropping out of the race.

The New Jersey Senate race has been one of the most closely monitored contests in the United States this year, because its outcome may well determine future Senate votes on issues such as the Bush administration's Iraq policy, abortion, gun control and social security.

Mr. Torricelli began his re-election bid substantially ahead in the polls. But ethical questions have overshadowed his campaign for months.

In July, a U.S. Senate ethics committee reprimanded Mr. Torricelli for accepting gifts from a campaign contributor who is currently in jail. Mr. Torricelli apologized in a television commercial. But voters were apparently not satisfied, and his little-known Republican rival, Douglas Forrester, is now running more than a dozen points ahead in public opinion polls.

Analysts say court documents opened last week showing that prosecutors believed many of the allegations against Mr. Torricelli helped convince the senator to give up his bid for re-election. Mr. Torricelli denies he acted illegally or violated Senate rules.

At a news conference announcing his decision, Mr. Torricelli noted that the Democratic majority in the Senate is at stake. "In a strange irony of life, control of the Democratic majority of the United States Senate is now an issue, and I am a part of that issue," he said. "It will not only be decided in New Jersey, but it most certainly will in part be decided in New Jersey. I could not stand the pain if any failing on my part would do damage to the things and the people that I have fought for all of my life."

Democrats have held the Senate seat since 1972. Two former U.S. senators, including the man Mr. Torricelli replaced, Bill Bradley, are being mentioned as possible substitutes. Mr. Bradley, once a famous sports figure, retired from the Senate in order to run his ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination.