The New Jersey Senate Race
Jude Wanniski
October 18, 1996


Memo To: R.W. Apple Jr, NYTimes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The New Jersey Senate race

Your excellent October 5 story was especially good in recognizing that both Bob Torricelli and Dick Zimmer are not products of their party’s cookie cutters. As a citizen of New Jersey, I feel lucky to have the choice of the two of them, as both would do just fine in the U.S. Senate. Zimmer would be one of many on the GOP side who are committed to more rapid economic growth than we are experiencing. Torricelli, though, is one of a kind, which is why I’ve decided to support him, the only Democrat I will vote for this fall. If he wins, I will wholeheartedly support Zimmer for the other Senate seat when it comes up next. Both of these men belong in the U.S. Senate.

You may know I was a JFK Democrat in my youth. When I discovered Torricelli on C-SPAN three years ago, it struck me that he may represent the return of JFK’s brand of liberalism, which still appeals to me. (Jack French Kemp’s initials are also JFK, by the way, and I’ve told Torricelli I consider him to be a JFK/JFK Democrat.) There is no class warfare in Bob’s outlook, no Robin Hood stuff, but more the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats approach that I have always found attractive in political leaders. Most politicians are zero-sum, status quo people, playing the cards dealt them. This is especially true in today’s Beltway, which has been handcuffed by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings strictures, which require that the rich must take from the poor or vice versa, in order to do anything imaginative. The only way out is to lean on the Laffer Curve, the law of diminishing returns, which is what John Kennedy did, what Reagan did, what Kemp would like to do, and where Torricelli has arrived. He’s the first northern Democrat to represent growth ideas around that concept -- in both tax rates and spending programs. I told Jim Perry of the Wall Street Journal, who had a fine account of the race last month, that Torricelli is “an original,” meaning that unlike almost all other Democrats I see, he thinks problems through himself rather than reading out of a handbook.

If Clinton is re-elected, it would comfort me to know that Torricelli is in the Senate. He would not only resist the tendencies of Senate Democrats to raise tax rates on “the rich,” without regard for the damage this would do to the economy by shutting down investment. He would also make the arguments among his fellow Democrats that they can actually help the poor by increasing the rewards to invested capital -- the only way real wages can rise in any theoretical model of the economy. The former Democratic Senator from Oklahoma, David Boren, tried to do this to a degree, but when he could not make an impression on the liberal wing of his party, he quit in frustration. Torricelli could work the Democratic side of the aisle and help keep the White House from sliding back into the zero-sum grip of those who will actually vote against a tax cut because of the argument that it might cause the rich to get richer faster than the poor are getting richer.

If Dole is elected, which I believe is still possible, there will be a serious effort to rewrite the tax code from scratch. As Dick Stevenson, your colleague at the Times, reports today, this would be a monumental undertaking, one that would cause titanic struggles between the special interests. The effort could only be successful if done in a bipartisan spirit. Here again, Torricelli could be the one Democrat who could communicate in good faith between the two parties in the honest brokering that will be essential. At my client conference two years ago in Boca Raton, Kemp was in the back row listening when Torricelli spoke, making the arguments for economic growth that would require increased after-tax rewards to capital, but also making the case for a caring, effective federal government, one that spends more wisely than it has on programs to benefit the commonweal. He got a very big hand when he finished, and Jack Kemp was the first to rise with a compliment, saying of Bob: “You are too good to be a Democrat.”

The race between Torricelli and Zimmer is being characterized as the most negative in the nation, with tens of millions of dollars being spent by their campaigns and the so-called “soft money” their parties and supporters are allowed to provide. In truth, the two men are so similar in their approach to governance that they are forced to nitpick about each other’s voting records, hammering each other about amendments to amendments to bills in Congresses long past. In their second debate last night, each cited several votes the other had cast “against the environment,” for example, but when the League of Conservation Voters toted up their records on hundreds of votes, Zimmer had a 78.2% rating and Torricelli 77.1%. The issue I most agree with Zimmer on is his opposition to the Superfund, which I believe began with the best of intentions, but now simply drains billions of dollars from taxpayers to raise the real wages of trial lawyers and environmental “consultants” and contractors. Another point of agreement I have with Zimmer is his opposition to funding more B-2 bombers, which he last night “accused” the “liberal” Torricelli of supporting. 

As the examples indicate, both men are independent in their thinking, doing more homework than many in Congress who allow the party leaders to do most of their thinking on important issues. In the distortion game, I do think Zimmer has been more aggressive than Torricelli, which can easily be explained by the fact that throughout the campaign Torricelli has led in the polls. The worst example of this is Zimmer’s continuing charge that Torricelli helped the daughter of a Korean businessman who had fled the country with $30 million in embezzled funds. The inference is that the fugitive funneled some of that dirty money back to his lawyer, Torricelli. Zimmer also charged that Torricelli may have withheld information about the man from the FBI. Knowing Torricelli as I do, it is easy to see that he is proving the dictum that “No good deed goes unpunished.” The Newark Star Ledger’s peerless political reporter, David Wald, came to that conclusion after digging into the story and finding it was as Torricelli said it was. The FBI issued a statement tending to support that conclusion. That so far is the only really “personal” mudslinging I’ve seen in the race.

For the record, I have not drafted any speeches for Torricelli. I don’t know how that story got started, unless one of his aides thought they heard that I had. He asked me to write an endorsement statement, and I did, although I’m not sure he has used it. He also sent me a few speeches that others had drafted for him, and I had someone on my staff write a critique of them.