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« Pearce-Udall Match Set | Blog Home Page | Two AL GOP Races Headed For Runoff »

In NJ, Geography Matters

Despite polls showing a large portion of New Jersey voters concerned with Senator Frank Lautenberg's age, the 84-year old Democrat defeated Rep. Rob Andrews by a larger than expected margin, taking 59% to Andrews' 35% in the Garden State primary last night. Donald Cresitello, the mayor of Morristown, finished a distant third with 6%.

Andrews, who only jumped in the race in early April, ran advertisements in the state's two hugely expensive media markets, Philadelphia and New York City, pointing out that Lautenberg would be 91 years old after finishing out his fourth term (Actually an error on Andrews' part; Lautenberg won't turn 91 until about three weeks after his term expires).

But age mattered less than geography in New Jersey last night. Lautenberg ran up big totals in the state's northern counties, including a more than four-to-one victory in Bergen County and similar margins in Middlesex, Essex and Hudson Counties, all heavily Democratic areas in the northeast part of the state. Andrews managed impressive wins in his home base in Camden and Gloucester Counties, which he represents in Congress, but the level of Lautenberg's wins up north carried the day.

On the Republican side, former Rep. Dick Zimmer beat two other Republicans with 46% of the vote, a margin narrower than his state party would have liked. Zimmer joined the race late, after several other promising contenders dropped out. He beat conservative State Senator Joe Pennacchio, who clocked 40%, and college professor Murray Sabrin, for whom Ron Paul campaigned earlier this year, who took 14%.

Zimmer lost a bid for this same Senate seat twelve years ago, when Democrat Robert Torricelli beat him by ten points. This year Zimmer will remain the underdog, but should more general election voters see Lautenberg's age as a negative than the Democratic electorate did, Republicans may have yet another reason to hope for a good result in the state. Those hopes, though, have been dashed repeatedly in recent years.

Like New Mexico, New Jersey also has three open seats this year, but with a giant asterisk. Andrews, who vacated his First District to run for Senate, could very well end up back in the House next year. That's because Andrews' wife, Camille, won the primary to replace her husband, though she is largely seen as a placeholder candidate who will be substituted out for the incumbent before November.

East of Andrews' Camden-based district, Republican Rep. Jim Saxton is retiring after twelve terms in Congress. The Third District stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, and Democrats think they have a good case for winning a seat that voted for Al Gore by eleven points but that favored President Bush by 8,000 votes out of more than 220,000 cast in 2004.

Democrats cleared the field for State Senator John Adler, who in 1990 lost to Saxton by a wide margin. This year, though, Adler is seen as one of the party's top recruits, and he had already raised a jaw-dropping $1.4 million through the May 14 pre-primary filing deadline. Adler maintains $1.1 million on hand.

In November, he will face Medford Township Councilman Chris Myers, the Republican anointed by Saxton as his successor. A Gulf War veteran and former Lockheed Martin vice president, Myers took 49% of the vote, compared with 26% for Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly and 25% for former Tabernacle Township committeeman Justin Murphy. Republicans are happy with Myers because of his defense background in a district that has several military bases and relies heavily on the defense industry (Saxton retires as the second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee).

The state's other open seat presents another Democratic target, though it may be a steeper hill for the party to climb. In 2006, state Assemblywoman Linda Stender came a surprisingly close 3,000 votes away from beating Republican Michael Ferguson in the Seventh District, which snakes from the Pennsylvania border to the Newark suburbs. The district gave President Bush a six-point win in 2004 and a one-point victory in 2000, but national Democrats have made Stender's second attempt at the seat a top priority.

Replacing Ferguson, whose retirement was not completely expected, on the GOP ballot will be State Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance. Lance scored 40% of the vote last night, doubling the total for his next-closest competitor, businesswoman Kate Whitman, the daughter of former Governor Christie Todd Whitman. Lance has some financial catching up to do, after raising $382,000 before the primary and spending all but $191,000 through the May 14 pre-primary window. Stender has a huge cash advantage, with $913,000 in the bank.

Despite both Republican nominees' financial shortfall, the National Republican Congressional Committee maintains that both will have good chances in November given the state of the Democratic Party in New Jersey. "Republicans nominated two incredibly strong candidates on primary night while Democrats have cast their lot in with two machine politicians who have contributed heavily to the dysfunction in Trenton and served as enablers for the vastly unpopular Democratic Governor Jon Corzine," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. The DCCC did not return a request for comment by press time.