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Races Take Shape for Party Primaries in June

Many Senate and Assembly incumbents face competition in bids for slots on November ballot.

While the governor’s race tops the ballot, a number of legislative contests throughout the state, more of which target incumbent Democrats than Republicans, may prove at least as interesting to local voters.

Monday was the deadline for partisan candidates to file petitions to get on the primary ballot in June.

Both Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), his expected Democratic challenger, have primary opponents.

But so do five incumbent state senators -- four Democrats and one Republican – and seven Assembly members – four Democrats and three Republicans.

There are at least some other challenges for open seats or for the right to challenge incumbents in November. The entire makeup of the election landscape is still unclear, though, as the final candidate filings posted on the New Jersey Division of Elections website Monday night appeared to be incomplete.

For instance, no Democratic filings are listed for either the Senate seat in the 35th District, currently held by Nellie Pou, or for either Assembly seat in the 17th, currently held by Upendra Chivukula and Joseph Egan. The filings are available on the Division of Elections website.

When just a handful of districts across the state are competitive enough to give either party a shot to win in November, the outcome of the primary usually decides who wins the general election, as well.

That will not necessarily be the case in the governor’s race, which some say will be competitive in November despite the current high popularity ratings enjoyed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

But Christie does have a hurdle, however small, to overcome before getting on the ballot. Running against Christie, but not expected to win, is Seth Grossman, a conservative former Atlantic County freeholder.

Buono has an even greater challenge. She is facing four opponents: Carl Bergmanson, the conservative mayor of Glen Ridge who also sought the nomination in 2009; William Araujo, an Edison Planning Board member; Troy Webster, an aide to the mayor of East Orange; and Jeff Boss, a perennial candidate who ran for president last year and whose website states he is simultaneously running for governor of New Jersey and mayor of New York City.

There is one very competitive legislative district this year, with contests in both the Senate and Assembly.

The 34th District, in Essex and Passaic counties, is one of those districts where the winner of the Democratic primary will, in all likelihood, win in November. But in this race, Sen. Nia Gill, who has been in the Legislature since 1994, is facing a serious challenge from Mark Alexander, a Seton Hall University law professor and campaign advisor to President Obama, and Vernon Pullins Jr., a former East Orange Board of Education president. There are also four Democrats – Rayfield Morton, Anthony Moye, Beverly Williams and Denise Baskerville -- challenging Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Thomas Giblin, a former state party chairman, for their Assembly seats.

What sets the challenge in the 34th apart from others is money. As of Jan. 15, Alexander had raised $145,000, more than Gill’s $122,000. Pullins had not filed a report with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission since 2001.

“The 34th District Senate race is the big primary,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “There are two very strong individuals (in Gill and Alexander), each in his own way. There’s a great deal of negotiating going on behind the scenes. We’ll have to see how it plays out.”

There are a number of other interesting races: + A full slate of Republicans is challenging the incumbents in the 13th District along the Shore. Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, who lost a bid for U.S. Senate last November, faces Leigh-Ann Bellew. Edna Walsh and Stephen Boracchia are challenging Assembly members Amy Handlin and Declan O’Scanlon.

  • In the 20th District, longtime Democratic Sen. Raymond Lesniak is facing Donna Obe, president of the Roselle Board of Education.

  • Former Union County freeholder Nancy Ward is challenging Sen. Nicholas Scutari in the 22nd District.

  • In the 32nd District in Hudson County, a Democratic stronghold, Sen. Nicholas Sacco and Assembly members Vincent Prieto, who chairs the powerful Budget Committee, and Angelica Jimenez are also facing a full slate of challengers.

  • In the neighboring 33nd District, another heavily Democratic district, six Democrats are vying for spots on the Assembly ballot in November, and most likely seats in Trenton. Neither sitting Assembly member is seeking re-election.

  • In the 8th District in South Jersey, Assemblyman Chris Brown, a Republican, and three Republicans are vying got the two slots. Brown’s districtmate, Scott Rudder, has announced his retirement.

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