Diane Allen

Update: Diane Allen lost the Republican Senatorial primary Tuesday, gathering 36 percent of the vote. Doug Forrester won his party’s nomination with 44 percent of the voter’s support, while 20 percent cast their ballots for John Matheussen. Forrester will now face incumbent Democrat Sen. Robert Torricelli in November’s general elections.

TRENTON, N.J. (WOMENSENEWS)–Political observers are closely watching today’s Republican primary in New Jersey, where experts say a female Republican candidate in the mold of some of this state’s former moderate governors might pose the strongest challenge to incumbent Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli.

To face Torricelli, plagued for three years by allegations of campaign-finance abuse, Diane Allen first must beat her more conservative primary opponents, wealthy businessman Doug Forrester and state lawmaker John Matheussen, in today’s Republican primary.

“Diane Allen would be the strongest candidate of all,” said Jennifer Duffy, a campaign analyst at the Cook Political Report. “She provides all the right contrasts and at the same time she is moderate enough not to alienate swing voters. And she’s a woman.”

This fall, each Senate election will be closely watched as Democrats fight to hold on to their one-seat advantage.

Primaries often Decided by Most Partisan Voters

Winning is not an easy task for a moderate in any Republican primary. These party-member-only elections tend to draw relatively small numbers of a state’s most partisan voters to the ballot box. Indeed, polls show that Forrester, a staunch conservative on most issues except reproductive rights, leads the pack as he heads into today’s election. He surged ahead of Allen, a former television anchor and a state senator, in recent weeks, after pumping $3 million of his own money into his campaign.

Allen, however, claims that her profile will prevail over Forrester’s deep pockets. A bona fide moderate, Allen has worked to convince conservatives that she would be the strongest candidate in a statewide race. She’s doing that by touting her record as a fiscal conservative and as a social liberal–she’s pro-choice and favors the death penalty–in a state dominated by Democratic and Independent voters.

A regional celebrity, Allen is also positioning herself as the candidate who presents the best foil to Torricelli. U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White dismissed allegations against Torricelli six months ago, but the Senate Ethics Committee is currently reviewing them, casting a potential shadow over New Jersey’s senior senator in the general election. As a result, Allen is staking her campaign on a message of openness and honesty, qualities she says are lacking in both of her opponents, both of whom have refused to make public their income tax statements.

“We need someone who is open and who is willing to put things out . . . as I have done,” Allen said during a televised debate last week. “We don’t need ducking. We don’t need hiding. That’s what Mr. Torricelli does. We need a candidate who doesn’t do that.”

Forrester responded to the attack angrily. “I really, really don’t like any sort of implication that somehow there is some similarity between the kinds of things that Bob Torricelli has done and my behavior,” Forrester said. Matheussen called Allen a hypocrite, noting that she refused to make her income tax statements public in her bid for re-election to the state Senate last year.

Allen Has Many Important Endorsements

Allen’s moderate stance has earned her the endorsements of many of the area’s major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Times of Trenton. It has also earned her the support of The WISH List, a political-action committee that backs pro-choice Republican women in contested races. The group has contributed more than $40,000 to Allen–one of only 10 of the group’s priority candidates this year.

“The reality is that she’s probably the only one that can win this race,” said WISH List President Candace Straight. “She’s the only one who can beat Torricelli in the fall, but sometimes that doesn’t matter in the primary.”

While Allen’s strategy may be resonating among academics and analysts, political experts contend that Forrester has gained momentum in recent weeks.

Forrester served as mayor of West Windsor and later in former Gov. Tom Kean’s administration. He earned his fortune as president of a group employee health benefits company called BeneCard Services. He has spent more than $1.8 million and has $1.2 million in the bank, according to the latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last week. Allen, by contrast, has raised just over $377,000 and has less than $175,000 left over.

Whoever wins today’s primary will no doubt face an uphill battle in November.

Democrats Appear to Be Gaining in New Jersey

National political observers placed their bets on Torricelli after White cleared him of any wrongdoing last January. A host of potentially strong Republican challengers–such Kean and magazine tycoon Steve Forbes–seemed to agree that Torricelli was too tough to beat. They withdrew their names from consideration earlier this year, leaving only less experienced candidates to challenge the newly bolstered incumbent.

Having won seven congressional elections and one Senate bid, Torricelli has earned a reputation as a masterful fund-raiser and a fierce campaigner. He has already raised an astonishing $4.5 million for this race and may well raise more than the $9.2 million he took in during the 1996 race.

Democrats are also gaining ground in the Garden State. Sen. Jon Corzine defeated moderate Rep. Bob Franks in the 2000 Senate race; Gov. Jim McGreevey captured the 2001 gubernatorial election; and Democrats took back control of the state legislature in the same year.

“It’s not a terribly auspicious time for a Republican to offer himself or herself up as the sacrificial lamb,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. “I do think, however, that whoever the nominee is will have a sufficient amount of ammunition” against Torricelli.

Allison Stevens covers politics in Washington.

For more information:

Diane Allen for Senate:

Doug Forrester for Senate:

Robert Torricelli for Senate: