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Lautenberg projected winner of New Jersey Senate seat

Lautenberg became the Democratic nominee after Sen. Robert Torricelli withdrew from the race.

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TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- Former Sen. Frank Lautenberg defeated Republican Doug Forrester on Tuesday in his bid to be the first U.S. senator to voluntarily leave office and then win another Senate election since Hubert Humphrey, CNN projects.

Lautenberg got into the race after Democratic incumbent Sen. Robert Torricelli abruptly quit the race September 30. Torricelli abandoned his re-election bid due to plummeting poll numbers and an inability to discuss anything other than his ethical missteps. After a legal battle, the Democratic Party replaced Torricelli on the ballot with Lautenberg.

Torricelli had been battered due to revelations that he had allegedly accepted more than $150,000 in money and gifts from businessman David Chang, a campaign contributor who pleaded guilty this year to violating federal election laws. He was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee this summer after an investigation.

A poll in late September showed Torricelli trailing Forrester by 13 points. Torricelli's departure threw Forrester for a loop, as his campaign had focused primarily on being the anti-Torricelli candidate.

Republicans clearly wanted to run against the ethically scarred Torricelli, as the GOP was in the best position to win a Senate seat in the Garden State since it last prevailed in 1972.

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