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Primary Battles Expose Rift Among NJ Democrats

The internal fighting among New Jersey’s Democrats will move to election booths in June as the party’s high-profile primary battles in two congressional districts take center stage.

In both cases, Districts 9 and 10 in North Jersey, the winner of the June 5 primary are considered favorite to win the general election in November. They are two of the nine districts with a primary battle for at least one of the parties, but the only ones expected to be close.

“They are the only primaries of any note,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The lack of significant GOP primary contests parallels the relative unanimity within the party, headed by Gov. Chris Christie. The Democrats’ primary battles, on the other hand, come at a time when the party is having some prominent fights amongst itself, including the war of words between Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, and state Sen. President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and South Jersey power boss George Norcross.

“This comes at a time when the Democratic Party in New Jersey is not particularly playing nice with one another,” Murray noted.

The battle in the 9th District, which covers portions of Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties, has been brewing since the new district lines were drawn last December. Due to the results of the 2010 U.S. Census, New Jersey lost a seat in Congress and the commission that redrew the lines combined portions of the districts represented by U.S. Reps. Steven Rothman and Bill Pascrell, both Democrats. Rothman’s hometown was moved into the Republican-leaning 5th, represented by U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, but rather than run against the incumbent Republican, Rothman chose to move into the 9th. Three Republicans filed for their party’s nod in the 9th.

The fight in the neighboring 10th, which covers portions of Essex, Union and Hudson counties, is the result of the death last month of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, the state’s first and only black representative in Congress. Six Democrats have filed to replace him, including two Newark councilmen, Payne’s son Donald Jr., the council president, and Ronald C. Rice, son of state Sen. Ronald L. Rice; state Sen. Nia Gill; Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith; Cathy Wright of Newark, who ran last year; and Dennis R. Flynn. Three of those candidates, Payne, Rice and Smith, also filed for a special election to fill the elder Payne’s unexpired term.

Other districts with contests include:

In the 1st, incumbent Democrat Rob Andrews faces Francis X. Tenaglio; In the 2nd, Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo has three challengers; In the 4th, incumbent Christopher Smith faces Terrence McGowan in the GOP primary; In the 5th, two Republicans are challenging Garrett and three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination; In the 6th, Tea Party candidate Anna Little faces another Republican in her quest to try again to unseat Rep. Frank Pallone; In the 7th, Rep. Leonard Lance is being challenged by David Larsen in the GOP primary, with the winner facing state Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, D-Middlesex; In the 8th, Democratic incumbent Albio Sires faces Michael J. Shurin.

For the U.S. Senate seat, neither incumbent Democrat Robert Menendez, nor GOP frontrunner Joe Kyrillos, a state senator from Monmouth County, is expected to have trouble beating their opponents – Menendez faces Gwendolyn Charidy Diakos and three Republicans, including Tea Party candidate Bader Qarmont, are vying against Kyrillos. In the race for the presidency, Randall Terry, the founder of the pro-life group Operation Rescue, filed in opposition to President Barack Obama. The four Republicans currently remaining in the race, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, all filed, as well.

Three state Assembly seats will also be on the ballot.

There is no primary contest in the 4th legislative district in South Jersey, with the November battle a rematch between Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera and Republican Shelley Lovett.

Marie Corfield and Sue Nemeth will vie in the 16th District Democratic primary in Central Jersey to challenge Assemblywoman Donna M. Simon, the Republican. And in the 26th District in Morris and Passaic counties, Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce, who replaced her husband Alex who died at the end of the last session, faces a challenge from developer Anthony Pio Costa III in the Republican primary. Democrat Joseph Raich, who ran unsuccessfully last November, is trying again.

Colleen O'Dea is an editor-at-large for NJ Spotlight.

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