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With Few Surprises in NJ Primaries, Battle Lines Drawn for Fall

After easy victory, focus shifts to Kyrillos and challenge to unseat Menendez in U.S. Senate.

Other than two closely watched Democratic races in North Jersey, which resulted in surprisingly large margins of victory, the rest of the state's primary contests yesterday went as expected with every incumbent easily moving on to the general election.

That’s when the spotlight will shift to the U.S. Senate race, which had one of the most lackluster primary challenges in recent memory. Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez was unchallenged and while four Republicans were on the ballot, there was never a doubt that state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) would win.

New Jersey Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth)

A close ally to Gov. Chris Christie and backed by a virtually united New Jersey GOP, Kyrillos has been running against Menendez since announcing his candidacy. He plans to officially start his November campaign today, with a morning press conference at the Statehouse.

Last night, Kyrillos gathered with supporters at the PNC Bank Arts Center Robert Meyner Reception Center for a victory rally where he declared he was ready to beat the Hudson County Democrat who is in the midst of his seventh year in the Senate.

“I am ready to make the case to the great people of this great state. We have an opportunity. An opportunity for greatness. We must seize it,” said Kyrillos, who has served the past 24 years in the state Legislature, most of that in the upper house.

“Some would use much harsher words, but even Democrats think that Bob Menendez is mediocre. Bob Menendez is a mediocre Senator. We deserve much better,” he said.

“When evaluating whether Bob Menendez deserves another term, ask yourself a simple question: What has Bob Menendez done to EARN your vote?” Kyrillos continued. “Can you think of a single initiative, a single idea, a single meaningful piece of legislation that Bob Menendez has offered to bring America back? Has he made your life better? Has he earned your confidence, your trust, your vote? No. Bob Menendez has failed.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez

Menendez spent 13 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before being appointed to fill the vacancy created by Jon Corzine’s election to the Senate.

The campaign is bound to be negative and costly. As of mid-May, Kyrillos had raised $2.4 million, while Menendez had raised $9 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Polls to date have Menendez comfortably ahead of Kyrillos, though not reaching 50 percent, and Kyrillos recognized by less than a quarter of voters.

In addition to trailing in campaign funding and name recognition, Kyrillos faces a four-decade deficit of voter support for putting a member of the GOP in the U.S. Senate. The last time New Jerseyans elected a Republican Senator was in 1972, when incumbent Clifford P. Case won re-election. Case lost the primary six years later to Jeffrey Bell, who lost the general election to Democrat Bill Bradley.

With virtually all the ballots counted, Kyrillos took 77 percent of all votes and had no trouble defeating three primary opponents, David-Douglas Brown, Joe “Rudy” Rullo and Bader G. Qarmout. There was not even one GOP debate. Brown, an inventor who had tried to run for governor in 2009 but was tossed from the ballot and didn’t even have a website, came in a distant second, with 9 percent of the vote. Rullo, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress, took third; while Qarmout, who had gotten the endorsement of several local Tea Party groups, as well as the National Rifle Association, came in last.

There were no surprises at the very top of the ticket, the presidential race, either. New Jersey voters chose the already anointed candidates – President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

Given the presidential contest was not in doubt, voter turnout was low in many counties – as low as 11 percent for Democrats in Cumberland County. But in places with a hot contest, like the 9th, turnout was higher -- as much as 37 percent for Democrats in Passaic.

The closest call an incumbent had in defending his spot on the ballot was that faced by Rep. Leonard Lance, a Republican, in the sprawling 7th District that includes portions of six counties in central and western Jersey. David Larsen, who owns a windows and doors company, tried to paint himself as the more conservative and got some Tea Party endorsements.

Lance took the challenge seriously, sending out a number of mailings -- including two attacking Larsen for not paying his property taxes and for taking federal stimulus money -- and robo-calling homes to boost his support. FEC data show Lance outspent Larsen about 9-to-1. Lance wound up getting 60 percent of the vote, but lost in the Morris County portion of the district.

This is the first election in a newly redistricted New Jersey, which will have only 12 representatives in the House come January, having lost one member when 2010 Census data showed New Jersey’s population did not rise as much as that of other states. The map had been drawn by Republicans and hurt the Democrats in the 9th District, but otherwise is seen as favoring the party in power and incumbents in particular. So it was not surprising that several other incumbents faced, but easily fended off, challenges:

  • In the 1st District, which includes Camden, incumbent Rep. Rob Andrews polled 88 percent against fellow Democrat Francis X. Tenaglio.

  • In the 2nd District, New Jersey’s southernmost, the state’s most moderate Republican, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, took 88 percent of the vote to best Mike Assad.

  • In the 4th District, incumbent Republican Rep. Chris Smith received 84 percent in beating Terrence McGowan.

  • In the 5th, the state’s most conservative Republican, Rep. Scott Garrett, polled 87 percent in besting Michael Cino and Bonnie Somer.

  • In the 8th, Rep. Albio Sires got 89 percent to beat Michael Shurin in the Democratic primary.

There were several other primaries within the party out of power in a number of districts:

  • In the 2nd, Cassandra Shober took 65 percent of the votes to best Viola Hughes and Gary Stein to win the Democratic primary and the right to challenge LoBiondo.

  • In the 5th, Adam Gussen beat Jason Castle and Diane Sare to win the Democratic primary and battle Garrett in November. The Teaneck deputy mayor took 55 percent of the vote.

  • In the 6th, 2010 Tea Party darling Anna Little handily bested fellow Republican Ernesto Cullari bested fellow for the right to face Rep. Frank Pallone. Little took about 70 percent of the vote.

The only districts with no primaries at all were the 3rd, 11th and 12th.

There were also three unexpired state Assembly seats on the ballot, two of which had contested primaries.

In the 26th in North Jersey, incumbent Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Morris) had no trouble besting developer Anthony Pio Costa III by winning 79 percent of the vote.

And in the 16th in Central Jersey, Marie Corfield took 57 percent of the ballots cast to beat Sue Nemeth for the right to challenge Republican Assemblywoman Donna Simon.

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