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"It’s hard when your own words come back to haunt you, isn’t it, Mr. Lautenberg?" said an ad for his Democratic primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews, whom he defeated handily before beating former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer in the general election.
After Lautenberg won the 1982 election, Nicholas Brady, who had been appointed to serve the remainder of the previous term, resigned early to give Lautenberg valuable seniority over other new senators. He was sworn in Dec. 27, 1982, by a federal judge from Denver while he was vacationing in Vail, Colo.
In 1988, Lautenberg faced Pete Dawkins, a handsome Heisman Trophy winner who attended the U.S. Military Academy and went on to become a brigadier general and successful executive. Lautenberg’s campaign assailed Dawkins as an out-of-touch carpetbagger and ran ads urging Dawkins, "Be Real, Pete." Lautenberg won with 54 percent of the vote.
He won a third term in 1994 against Republican Garabed "Chuck" Haytaian, despite the GOP gains nationwide that overturned Democratic majorities in the Senate and House and Haytaian’s criticism of Lautenberg as a "silent senator."
In his unusual five-week return to campaigning in 2002, Lautenberg persevered with a steady, risk-averse campaign that portrayed him as a "serious senator" for "serious times" a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Republicans focused on Lautenberg’s liberal voting record, notably his opposition to the death penalty, development of a missile defense system and the 1991 resolution authorizing force against Iraq.
Born in urban Paterson, N.J., the son of Polish and Russian Jewish immigrants, Lautenberg never forgot his roots. He often recounted what government did for him — and what it could have done to help his widowed mother as she struggled to pay his father’s medical bills.
"We want to help. That’s government’s role," Lautenberg said during his successful bid for re-election in 1994.
He was educated at Nutley High School and served in the Army Signal Corps during World War II. With the help of the G.I. bill, he received an undergraduate degree in economics from Columbia University.
Lautenberg, who lived in Cliffside Park, N.J., is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and four children from his first marriage, which ended in divorce in 1988.
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
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