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Woodbridge Mayor James E. McGreevey had emerged as the front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
McGreevey came within 25,426 votes of ousting Whitman in 1997 and never stopped campaigning.
On July 20, 2000, U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli began seeking support to run for governor and even rolled out endorsements from ten prominent South Jersey Demcorats as part of a Draft Torricelli campaign.
Hamilton Mayor Glenn Gilmore, who upset the local Republican organization to succeed Jack Rafferty in 1999, was so close to McGreevey that some politicos referred to Hamilton as “Woodbridge South.” Gilmore had agreed to back Torricelli, which was viewed as a stunning blow to McGreevey.
Torricelli assumed that his mere entrance into the race would clear the field and give him clear shot at the Democratic nomination, and the general election. His campaign would last a dozen days and become known as “The 12 Days of Torricelli.”
McGreevey was sorely underestimated. His popularity among rank-and-file Democratic activists, carefully cultivated after six years of hard work, kept his hopes alive as dozens of party leaders stood up to Torricelli and remained loyal to the Woodbridge Mayor.
Many top labor leaders kept their word and remained firmly on the McGreevey team, much to the disappointment of Torricelli. Democratic leaders say that while Torricelli was the clear favorite to win the primary, was not willing to fight for the nomination.
During the last weekend of July, the Torricelli campaign began to fall apart. Two top Essex County Democratic leaders, Newark Mayor Sharpe James and Senate Minority Leader Richard Codey (D-West Orange) indicated that they would back McGreevey. Rep. Bob Menendez (D-Union City), was set to endorse McGreevey. Torricelli’s home county Democratic Chairman, Joseph Ferriero, also wound up supporting McGreevey.
Ocean County Democratic Chairman Al Santoro backed McGreevey even though his ally, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Monmouth), was actively considering a gubernatorial run.
The 12 days that they Torricelli for Governor campaign existed ultimately served to propel McGreevey’s candidacy, with his campaign in stronger political shape than before.
Pre-Torricelli, potential candidates, like Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), former Morris County Prosecutor Michael Murphy and Pallone were still very much contenders. McGreevey’s stature was enhanced.
Torricelli said he was humbled by the experience when he withdrew from the race on July 31. He had pledged to back McGreevey, which essentially cleared the primary field.