In New Jersey, a Shot to the Heart Gives Politics a Bad Name. Seriously.

For a taste of how nasty these midterm elections got in the tighter contests, look no further than New Jersey. In a race that has pitted an incumbent appointee against a political neophyte with a Garden State golden name, the GOP identified one Senate seat they felt hopeful they could snag away from the Democrats. Steering clear of issues for the bulk of his campaign, challenger Tom Kean, Jr., son of a beloved former governor, has stumped hard by claiming that Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who was appointed Jon Corzine after he vacated the seat to become governor, is "under federal criminal investigation" for renting a home to a nonprofit organization he had lobbied to obtain funds for. (In fact, according to the Annenberg political fact check Web site FactCheck.org, there is no available to evidence to support this conclusion. "Yes, a federal grand jury has subpoenaed record of a lease agreement between him and a nonprofit agency that is his tenant," says the FactCheck. "But it's not publicly known who the target of the investigation is.") That wasn't enough to stop the making of one memorable ad featuring a central-casting-style Soprano goomba talking on his cell phone about "our boy down in Washington, Bob Menendez." If tough-on-crime Kean wins the election, concludes the goomba, "bada-bing, we're in it--but deep!"

And those who hoped the end of the campaign today would mean an end to nasty maneuvering will be disappointed. As dawn broke over Kean's campaign headquarters in Mountainside, N.J., volunteers found that vandals had chained shut the entrance, preventing staff from getting into the building. Kean spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker immediately told NBC that "It's the Menendez campaign, or their supporters," without offering specific evidence. For their part, Menendez aides have brushed off the allegation as "noise." So, who to believe? "I think it's unlikely Menendez ordered it," David P. Rebovich, managing director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics, tells NEWSWEEK. "It may be shenanigans conducted by a Dem loyalist. And it's a little too cute for the Republicans to pull on themselves." Either way, he says, it's below-the-belt politics as usual in New Jersey and "many New Jerseans are used to this kind of campaign. We've heard this before--and citizens are frustrated with it."