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September 15, 2006

A NEW JERSEY SWITCHEROO:

For pure entertainment value, not much can compete with the blood sport of New Jersey politics. Last week federal investigators launched a probe into whether U.S. Senator Robert Menendez illegally benefited to the tune of more than $300,000 from a rental-income deal he had with a nonprofit agency that received millions of dollars in federal contracts. Even liberal good government groups agree that the relationship may have violated congressional conflict-of-interest rules.

The allegations have sparked a mini-panic among state Democratic operatives, who not so long ago thought Mr. Menendez -- who was appointed by Jon Corzine to complete his Senate term after being elected Governor in 2005 -- had the November election in the bag. Now they see Republican Tom Kean Jr. surging into a lead. If Republicans were to pick up a seat in this deep blue state, Democrats' chances of winning control of the Senate would be all but slammed shut.

That's why, as reported by the Newark Star-Ledger, there's now widespread speculation that the party brass may decide to throw Mr. Menendez overboard and replace him with an alternative -- nine-term Rep. Rob Andrews, perhaps -- who is regarded as more electable. This has become a familiar practice in the Garden State and has become known derisively as the New Jersey Switcheroo. . . .

If this story seems like déjà vu all over again, it should. This isn't the first time New Jersey Democrats have nominated ethically challenged candidates for high office. Last year Jim McGreevey resigned the governorship after he hired his gay lover as the state's national security director. In 2002, Senator Robert Torricelli was implicated in a bribery and campaign finance scandal, prompting the party oligarchs to throw him off the ballot and handpick Frank Lautenberg as his replacement on the ticket. Never mind that the deadline for ballot changes had passed. Senator Lautenberg kept the Senate seat from falling into Republican hands.

You'd think that the Jersey Democrats might try nominating people who aren't crooks.