The resignations of three sitting congressmen — two from South Jersey and one from Central Jersey — are making for an exciting primary season in New Jersey this year.
The deadline for filing to run in the June 3 congressional primary was Monday at 4 p.m.
Cory Booker’s US Senate seat is also on the ballot, since the Democratic former mayor of Newark was elected this year to finish out the unexpired term of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg and will have to run for a full term in November.
But none of the four Republicans seeking to challenge the well-known freshman has much name recognition. The winner of the GOP primary will have an uphill battle trying to overcome both Booker’s star power and New Jersey voters’ streak of more than 40 years of electing only Democrats to the upper house of Congress.
More interesting will be the races for three open seats in the House of Representatives, one of which is already vacant and will remain so until a November special election.
Rob Andrews, who had represented the 1st District, has already left office, while Reps. Jon Runyan (R-3rd) and Rush Holt (D-12th)are retiring at the end of the current term next January. There are contested primaries for all those seats, as well as in six other districts where incumbents are seeking re-election.
In the 1st, state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) brother of South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross, announced his candidacy to replace Andrews almost as soon as the congressman announced his resignation in early February. While Norcross is widely considered the front runner, two other Democrats filed ballot petitions: Frank W. Minor, the mayor of Logan Township, and Frank C. Broomell Jr. of Sicklerville. The district is staunchly Democratic, covering parts of Camden, Burlington and Gloucester counties, but will have an even bigger Republican primary field: Lee Lucas of Gibbstown, Garry W. Cobb, a former Philadelphia Eagle who is now a sports radio talk show host and has a website that focuses on Philadelphia sports, Gerard McManus of Berlin, and Claire H. Gustafson of Collingswood. Lucas and Gustafson have both sought public office before.
Daniel Douglas, director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, said the odds on the Democratic side would favor Norcross because he is the organization candidate and has name recognition. As for the GOP, “if broadcaster and former Philadelphia Eagle Garry Cobb should win the primary, it provides the Republicans with a high-profile candidate.”
According to data supplied by the state Division of Elections, only the three Democrats filed petitions to run in a special primary to fill Andrews’ unexpired term.
Although Gov. Chris Christie last year chose to conduct special primary and general elections to fill the US Senate vacancy when Lautenberg died, this year Andrews’ seat will remain open for almost nine months as Christie has scheduled the special elections to coincide with the regular elections.
Whoever wins the June primary could still face independent –and even Republican — opposition from write-in candidates in November, but the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to win the seat.
The GOP primary in the 3rd District, which leans Republican, features a battle between two former North Jersey mayors.
Steve Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota and unsuccessful Republican candidate for US Senate last year, moved to Lavallette in hopes of succeeding Jon Runyan. But former Randolph Mayor Tom MacArthur, who had worked as an insurance company executive, also relocated to Ocean County and MacArthur has won the backing of both the Burlington and Ocean County GOP.
There’s an even bigger race on the Democratic side, featuring Aimee Belgard, a Burlington County freeholder, Howard Kleinhendler, a lawyer from Brick who ran for Congress in the 4th District four years ago, and Bruce Todd of Waretown.
Holt’s announced retirement has three state legislators vying for the right to succeed him in the blue-leaning 12th, which includes parts of Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) won the endorsement of the Mercer and Union Democratic organizations. State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer)has the backing of the Middlesex County organization. Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset) and a congressional candidate two years ago in the neighboring 7th District, won the backing of the Democratic organization in Somerset. A fourth Democrat, Andrew Zwicker, a Princeton University plasma physicist from Kingston, is also running.
The sole Republican candidate is Dr. Alieta Eck of Somerset, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for US Senate last year.
Some other districts also have contests:
In the southernmost 2nd, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, finishing his second decade in the House, again faces a challenge from Mike Assad, a former Absecon Board of Education member. LoBiondo bested Assad by roughly a 10-to-1 margin in the 2012 primary. On the Democratic side, William J. Hughes Jr. of Northfield, and David H. Cole of Sewell are both seeking the nomination. Hughes is the son of former Rep. Bill Hughes, whose retirement from Congress in 1995 paved the way for LoBiondo’s election. Cole has Democratic credentials, too, having done computer tech work for Obama for America and the White House, according to his LinkedIn profile. Geographically the largest district, the 2nd encompasses Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties, as well as parts of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Ocean counties.
In the northernmost 5th District, Republican Rep. Scott Garrett of Wantage faces no primary opposition. Democrats Roy Cho, a corporate counsel from Hackensack who has received the party endorsement in all four counties represented in the district, and perennial candidate Diane Sare are battling for the right to face Garrett, who is serving his sixth term in Congress. The district includes portions of Bergen, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties.
In the 7th, which covers Hunterdon County, parts of Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren and Millburn in Essex, David Larsen is again challenging Rep. Leonard Lance, a lawyer from Clinton Township who was first elected in 2008, in the Republican primary. A businessman, Larsen is hoping the third time is the charm as he again seeks to oust Lance in the strong GOP district by portraying Lance as too liberal. No Democrats filed.
In the 10th District, freshman Rep. Donald Payne Jr. of Newark faces a crowded Democratic field that includes two Jersey City men — Curtis Alphonzo Vaughn III, whose campaign page states he has worked in sales, and Aaron Fraser, whose campaign biography states he is an ex-convict who is working on a master’s degree in theological studies– and Robert Louis Toussaint, a previously unsuccessful congressional candidate from Maplewood. Payne won a similarly large primary two years ago and ultimately succeeded his father, who died in office. The district, which includes parts of Essex, Hudson and Union counties, is strongly Democratic. One Republican, Yolanda Dentley of Roselle, is running unopposed.
In the strongly Republican 11th, Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, a 10-term incumbent from Harding, faces a challenge from Rick Van Glahn, a deacon in the Catholic church and self-employed home improvement contractor from Denville. Three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination: Lee Anne Brogowski of Mount Tabor, Mark Dunec of Livingston, and Brian Murphy of Nutley. Dunec, who works for a global management consulting firm, is the organization candidate.
Several other districts have no contests:
In the 4th, Republican Rep. Chris Smith of Robbinsville is unopposed in the primary, as is Democrat Ruben M. Scolavino, of Freehold. The 4th covers parts of Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
In the 6th, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of Long Branch is unopposed, as is Republican Anthony E. Wilkinson of Old Bridge. The district encompasses parts of Middlesex and Monmouth counties.
In the 8th, which covers parts of Essex and Hudson counties, as well as Fairview in Bergen and Elizabeth in Union, Democratic incumbent Albio Sires is unchallenged. Jude Anthony Tiscornia of Jersey City is the Republican candidate.
In the 9th, Democratic incumbent Bill Pascrell Jr. and Republican Deirdre G. Paul of Englewood are both unopposed. The district includes parts of Bergen and Hudson counties and Hawthorne in Passaic.
Booker, the former mayor who joined the US Senate last November, has no Democratic opposition. Three of the four Republicans running are experienced candidates, but have yet to win an office. Murray Sabrin of Fort Lee is a finance professor at Ramapo College. He ran in 1997 as the Libertarian candidate for governor, and sought the GOP Senate nomination in 2000 and 2008. Jeff Bell of Leonia has been involved in numerous political causes but is probably best known for beating the last elected Republican senator from New Jersey, Clifford Case, in the 1978 primary, but then losing the general election to Democrat Bill Bradley. Richard J. Pezzullo of Freehold ran for Senate as an independent in 1996. And Brian D. Goldberg of West Orange is a first-time candidate and general manager of a concrete company.