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    Wherefore Art Thou, Florio?

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, June 25, 1999

    Question: How likely is it that Jim Florio will win the U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey? – Al Maguire, Clementon, N.J.

    The GOP hasn't won a Senate seat in New Jersey since Clifford Case in 1972. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Former governor Florio has a lot of roadblocks in his bid for political redemption, many of which have been placed in his path by fellow Democrats. His one term in office is best remembered for the $2.8 billion tax increase he pushed through shortly after his election in 1989. That move led to the Republican capture of the legislature in 1991, and ultimately helped unseat Florio in 1993.

    Almost immediately after Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) announced in February that he would retire in 2000, Florio jumped into the race. With memories of Florio's tax hike still fresh, many Democrats dread the former governor's return to politics. In addition, the person who unseated him in '93, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, is the all-but-assured GOP Senate nominee. And Whitman would love to frame the Senate race as a rerun of their gubernatorial contest.

    It would be a mistake to underestimate Florio's strength, however. Even with the tax increase, he lost to Whitman by only 26,000 votes (out of 2.5 million cast). A scrappy fighter, he retains strong loyalties in southern New Jersey, and in a multi-candidate primary, he could conceivably find himself as the candidate to beat. Party leaders are desperately trying to winnow the field, hoping to rally around an anti-Florio candidate, but there is no sign that any of the Democratic wannabes out there will leave the race soon. The list includes former state party chair B. Thomas Byrne Jr. (son of ex-Gov. Brendan Byrne), Rep. Frank Pallone, wealthy attorney Lloyd DeVos, Edison Mayor George Spadoro, former congressman Herb Klein and Jon Corzine, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs & Company and multi-millionaire.

    Corzine may be the most intriguing of the lot. He is a political unknown, but he has deep pockets that could change that in a hurry. He also could match financially whatever the GOP comes up with for Whitman. Corzine reminds some of Lautenberg, who was similarly unknown (and rich) when he first ran for the Senate in 1982. His free-spending campaign that year enabled him to win the primary and then go on to defeat the late Millicent Fenwick (R) in November. By the way, party leaders have reportedly made serious overtures to get the 75-year old Lautenberg to run again, but he won't budge.

    Whomever the Democrats nominate will likely face a formidable opponent in Gov. Whitman. She has a strong national profile and remains personally popular. But in three statewide races -- a loss to Sen. Bill Bradley in 1990 and her two gubernatorial triumphs -- she has not garnered more than 49 percent of the vote. She could be vulnerable on an assortment of issues, including New Jersey's high auto insurance and property tax rates, revelations of racial profiling by the state police and a shift on some abortion questions. But that will be the subject of a future column.

    Question: A few years ago, North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan made a pledge not to run for reelection if he didn't solve the deficit. The deficit remained, so he didn't run again. After the election, the other senator, Quentin Burdick, died. Dorgan then ran for and won that seat. Didn't that make Dorgan the junior and senior senator from North Dakota? The Senate wasn't in session at the time, but if there was an emergency session, would Dorgan have been allowed to vote twice? Would it be legal for one person to run for both seats? Further, could you be a governor and a senator at the same time? I seem to remember that Huey Long at least considered that. – Mike Dowling, West Palm Beach, Fla.

    Conrad left one Senate seat but won another in the bizarre 1992 election. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: The situation occurred a little differently than you described, but it was still a fascinating episode to watch.

    In 1986, Democrat Kent Conrad (not Byron Dorgan), campaigning for what would result in an upset win over an incumbent Republican senator, pledged that he would not seek reelection unless the federal budget deficit was reduced during his term in office. While he later acknowledged that his pledge was a mistake, he kept his word and announced in April 1992 he would retire. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Byron Dorgan (D) announced for Conrad's seat.

    Then, on Sept. 8, 1992, senior Sen. Quentin Burdick (D), who had been ill for years, died. His widow, Jocelyn Burdick, was named to fill the seat until a special election was held later in the year. Conrad, saying that the voters wanted him to stay in the Senate, then announced he would seek Burdick's seat. "I kept my word," Conrad insisted amid charges he misled North Dakotans. "But my pledge did not extend to other offices."

    Dorgan won his race to succeed the retiring Conrad in November, and Conrad won the special election to succeed the late Burdick the following month. Conrad resigned his Senate seat on Dec. 14, 1992, and Dorgan was appointed by the governor the same day to fill the seat. Conrad then was sworn in that same day to fill Burdick's seat. Thus, Conrad did not hold both seats at the same time.

    As for Huey Long, the Kingfish did more than consider the possibility of holding both offices. In 1928 he won the governorship of Louisiana, and two years later he ousted Sen. Joseph Ransdell in the Democratic primary. But he didn't want to cede the governorship to his lieutenant governor, who was seen as hostile. So Long held off from taking his Senate seat for 14 months, remaining as governor, until he made sure that one of his allies was elected governor. Satisfied, he resigned the governorship on Jan. 25, 1932, and was sworn in to the Senate the same day. While Long was nominally the former governor, he basically ran the state from his Senate office. With his "Share Our Wealth" movement, Long had won legions of admirers all over the country and was in fact planning to run for president in 1936. But he was assassinated on Sept. 10, 1935.

    Question: Who was the youngest person ever elected to the House of Representatives? – Jason Tully, San Antonio, Tex.

    Answer: This one took a lot of digging, but the answer is William Charles Cole Claiborne. Born in 1775, he was elected from Tennessee in 1796 and reelected in 1798, "in spite of the fact that he was still initially under the constitutional age requirement of twenty-five years," according to the Biographical Directory of the American Congress. The youngest current member is Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), who was born on May 11, 1970 (gasp!), and who was just 26 when he was first elected in 1996.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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