Escaping to His Dad’s Campaign
In the Garden State, the seemingly invincible Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D) found himself brought down earlier this summer by corruption charges—he dropped out of the race as it appeared that his loss might throw control of the chamber to the Republicans.
At that point, Torricelli’s Republican challenger, Douglas R. Forrester ’75, appeared to be headed toward a narrow victory.
Now, though, Forrester is battling a 78-year-old, twenty-year congressional veteran—former Sen. Frank Lautenberg—who retired from politics in 2000 only to be drafted again this fall by his party to replace Torricelli.
Forrester’s campaign, in all its expense, glory and possible defeat, has provided an outlet for his disillusioned son to escape the Ivy walls of Harvard.
Alexander Forrester ’03-’04, who says he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, jumped at the opportunity to abandon what would have been his senior year to work on his father’s campaign.
Although the younger Forrester had no campaigning experience—and has said that he won’t work on any future campaigns—he approached his father’s campaign with a blend of familial idealism and political cynicism.
“My friends have not let me forget the irony in the fact that I dropped out of one so-called ‘corrupt’ institution, and joined an even more dubious one: the Republican Party of New Jersey,” Alex Forrester writes in an e-mail.
“Working on the campaign has confirmed my naive cynicism that I came in with,” he says. “Good people with good motives and ideas do exist, and we must all pray that they do not entirely abandon politics. I may be biased, but that is why I support my father’s dream: I know he knows the spirit of service that is required to be a public servant.”
According to Forrester’s blockmate Anthony J. Gabriele ’03, Alex appreciates his father and “glows” when he talks about him. The younger Forrester holds more liberal views on social issues, Gabriele says, but has come to realize that he differs less with his father on fiscal matters than he once thought.
“Alex had a love/hate relationship with his father, at least going into the campaign,” Gabriele says. “He found his father very inspiring, but their politics going in were very different. Alex was always trying to understand why a guy he respected holds these views.”
The senior Forrester’s odyssey began after the GOP’s likely candidate, a municipal- and county-level politician named James W. Treffinger, found himself the subject of a federal investigation into his finances.
Forrester, a millionaire business owner, stepped up and spent $5 million of his own money to defeat two state senators—Dianne Allen and John Matheussen—for the nomination, but he is still struggling with name recognition, especially against Lautenberg’s well-known status.
A pro-choice moderate, Doug Forrester’s success in a traditionally democratic state has astonished many. Polls prior to Torricelli’s withdrawal on Sept. 30 had him neck-in-neck with the incumbent.
Since the Democratic candidate switch, polls have shown Lautenberg in the lead with Forrester not far behind. A New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted Oct. 19-24 found Lautenberg at 48 percent and Forrester at 36 percent.
Since his father began running, Alex Forrester has been spending his days helping the campaign in any way he can—from writing speeches and policy papers to doing Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) activities.
“Campaigning is mostly drudge work—even in this age of mass media, you still need people at your rallies,” Alex Forrester says. “The typical day begins at 7:30 and goes as late as 2 or 3 a.m. if things are really busy. Some days are boring; some days lunch doesn’t happen.”
Although the work has been hard, he says his family has benefited from the campaign in unforeseen ways.
“The most amazing thing about this campaign is that my family is actually closer than it was before,” he says. “My father himself has been really busy, but my brother and sister and mother have all really rallied behind my dad and there is a sense of common hope that brings us together. It’s like an effervescence.”
“There is a part of me that will be relieved if we lose,” he adds. “But there is also the fact that any of that relief means nothing compared to the desire to see my father happy. I am excited to hear the results, but I am proud of my father either way...and happy to end my political career.”
The end of the hectic campaign today will allow Alex to refocus on his future. He says that if his father wins, he is unlikely to take a job in his father’s office—which would come as no surprise to his blockmate.
“At heart Alex has a bit of the anarchist in him,” Gabriele says. “He has certain detestation of politics.”
Win or lose today, Alex will probably return to Cambridge but not to Harvard.
“I certainly can’t come back to school now that I’ve had a taste of freedom,” he says.
Moreover, though, his long-lingering dissatisfaction with Harvard has made Alex determined to avoid returning.
“I had wanted to drop out since the end of the first semester, when I realized that Harvard was only worthwhile if you covet its name,” he says. “No bribe, even a degree with a Harvard name on it, is worth wasting so much time and energy.”