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Sources: Torricelli may drop out of race

Situation described as fluid and 'chaotic'

From Jonathan Karl (CNN Washington Bureau)

Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey
Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Robert Torricelli, his campaign feeling the fallout from an ethics controversy, may drop his re-election bid in New Jersey, Democratic party sources said Monday.

But Torricelli's campaign office appeared to take issue with that report. A press release issued by the Democrat's campaign said the senator would address "today's misleading rumors" at a news conference to be scheduled later in the day.

A senior Democratic operative close to Torricelli described the situation as very fluid and said it wasn't clear whether a press conference would be held.

"It's confused, confusing and chaotic," said the operative.

While Torricelli has not made up his mind, according to sources, party officials are already talking to possible alternative candidates, including U.S. Reps. Robert Menendez and Frank Pallone.

Polls released over the weekend showed Torricelli trailing his GOP opponent Doug Forrester by double digits.

Should Torricelli drop out of the race less than two months before the midterm elections, that would complicate Democratic efforts to maintain control of the Senate.

Republicans need just one more GOP senator to wrest control of the chamber from Democrats

Torricelli was admonished by the Senate this summer, following an ethics committee investigation into whether he had improperly accepted gifts from a campaign contributor.

Torricelli has since apologized to voters for his behavior. In July, he delivered a speech on the Senate floor, citing "lapses of judgment" and vowing to take "full personal responsibility" for what happened. (Full story)

A source close to Menendez said that he is torn about whether he would run if Torricelli pulls out.

Menendez is in a close leadership race for the Democratic caucus chairman in the House and he is concerned about jumping into a battle that, the source said, is already set up as a "losing proposition."

On the other hand, the source said that Menendez knows how important the Democratic majority is in the Senate.

Capitol Hill Producer Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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