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Opinion: 47 Reasons to Vote in a NJ Primary

With 47 candidates running and twelve of thirteen Congressional districts hosting a primary contest for one or both parties, the results of Tuesday's election may provide some clue as to what will happen come November.

Off-year primaries often go by with barely a ripple of interest. This year’s primary elections in New Jersey are markedly different. For one thing, a record number of candidates have been fielded. For another, the results of this year’s Congressional primaries will be closely watched and may provide some clues as to what will happen in the general election. If you’ve been following the national political scene, you know there are questions that will be answered come November. How powerful is the Tea Party movement? Is it strong enough to push aside moderate Republican incumbents? How unhappy is the liberal wing of the Democratic party? Will they abandon Obama and his policies?

Vote. If you are affiliated with either party it’s your duty. Vote if you care about who represents your party in the general election. And vote if you want to send a signal how you feel about what’s been happening in Washington.

On June 8, the contest at the top of the ballot is the race for the U. S. House of Representatives, an office that often does not capture the emotions of voters. Because Congressional districts typically cross parts of different counties, it can make it very difficult for voters to know what district they are in and to follow who represents them.

In a normal year congressional races are rather predictable and thus uninteresting; the way districts are configured purposefully makes them noncompetitive. Incumbents are regularly re-elected by wide margins. One or two districts might spark some activity, but usually only when there is an open seat.

What is different this year? Seven of the 13 incumbents are being challenged in the primary. Twelve of the thirteen districts have a primary contest in one or both of the parties. A total of 47 candidates are running, a record number for the recent past. (Note that if each party ran one candidate, there would be 26 candidates. In 2006, there were a total of 28 candidates in the primary.) Challengers are running against the incumbent’s record, whether they are Republicans connected with the Tea Party or simply individuals with platforms to the left or right.

The outcome of this election will be closely watched to assess what voters are likely to do in November. Are incumbents in trouble? Which ones—Republicans or Democrats? Has the Tea Party captured the attention of New Jersey voters? Are the more liberal Democratic voters abandoning Obama supporters in Congress?

The seven incumbents who are being challenged are as follows: Rob Andrews (D-1, Camden area); Frank A. Lobiondo (R-2, most of south Jersey); John Adler (D-3, Parts of Ocean, Burlington and Camden); Chris Smith (R-4, parts of Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean); Leonard Lance (R-7, parts of Hunterdon, Somerset, Union and Middlesex); Rodney Frehlinghysen (R-11, Morris County and parts of Passaic, Somerset and Sussex); and Albio Sires (D-13, parts of Hudson, Middlesex, Essex and Union.)

Two districts have attracted considerable media attention: the 3rd and 7th. Both are held by freshmen congressmen, and both are being challenged in the primary. John Adler in the 3rd—a district that includes Ft. Dix and has been held by a Republican for two decades—is being challenged by Barry Bendar, who faults him for not supporting the Obama health care plan. (Adler was the only New Jersey Democrat to vote against the plan.)

On the other side of the aisle, John Runyan, a former Eagles football player, has been endorsed by the county party leadership. He’s being challenged by a Tea Party candidate, Justin Murphy, who received the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial endorsement.

In the 7th district, Republican Congressman Leonard Lance won his first term in a close race in 2008. He is now being challenged by three Republicans, who argue that he is too moderate: Bruce Baker, David Larsen and Lon Hosford, who claims to be a Tea Party candidate.

The Democratic candidate in that district, Edward Potosnak, is a former chemistry teacher who is running unopposed.

Two others races that will be closely watched are in Districts 6 and 12. The Democratic incumbents do not have challengers, but the outcome of the Republican primary will shape their races in the fall.

Congressman Pallone, from the 6th district, was a leading proponent of the Obama health care plan. His Republican challenger will be either Diane Gooch, a wealthy newspaper publisher of the Two River Times out of Red Bank, or Anna Little, mayor of Highlands and a candidate endorsed by the Tea Party.

In the 12th District, which runs through five counties in the central part of the state, Rush Holt is seen as an articulate spokesperson for important legislation passed by the House Democrats. The Republican primary in that district is a contest between Princeton financial investor Scott Sipprelle and David Corsi, a self-proclaimed Tea Party candidate (although not officially endorsed by the group), who is in the real estate business in the eastern part of the district.

Whatever your district, there are important choices to be made and the votes will not only determine who runs in the fall general elections, but also will be very carefully scrutinized to see if, like tea leaves, they can be read to signal the character of the current political scene and what lies ahead in the general election.

For additional information about how to find your district and who is running in it, check the nonpartisan website of the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

Ingrid W. Reed is policy analyst and New Jersey project director for the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. Her work focuses on campaigns and elections from the point of view of the citizen. Most recently, Reed prepared the report, "The New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law and an Assessment of Its Effectiveness." She also organized the study "Clean Elections: Public Financing in Six States including New Jersey’s Pilot Projects." Reed has a wide range of experiences in state politics and planning, governance and community affairs, including chair of the Governor's Task Force on Local Government Ethics and member of the New Jersey State Planning Committee for Implementing the Federal Help America Vote Act.

Reed has written columns on New Jersey politics and government for the state’s major newspapers. She is frequently interviewed for analysis of New Jersey public affairs by state, national and international media.

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