The U.S. Senate seat former Newark Mayor Cory Booker won last October tops today’s primary election, which will also determine which major party candidates will vie for all of New Jersey’s 12 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in November.
This year’s primary is more notable than most because a quarter of the state’s members of Congress are retiring — in the case of the 1st District, Rob Andrews has already left — and in most districts, the winner of the Democratic or Republican primary winds up winning the general election. New Jersey’s districts are currently split, with half “red” and half “blue.”
Given that, probably the most watched race is for the right to represent the Democratic party on the general election ballot in Central Jersey’s 12th District. Three current state legislators are running, as well as a physicist, but the race is expected to boil down to two: Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) and Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex).
The only nonpartisan poll, a mid-May Monmouth University Poll, had Greenstein leading Watson Coleman among likely voters by just 1 percentage point, but a third of voters were still undecided. In a blog post yesterday, Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, gave Watson Coleman a two-point edge, but added, “I won’t be the least bit surprised if this forecast turns out to be wrong.”
The candidates share similar progressive ideas. Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset) has an insignificant fundraising lead — $351,000 to Watson Coleman’s $348,000 as of yesterday — but his base is smaller and the Monmouth poll showed him with just 11 percent of the vote. Greenstein has the backing of the Middlesex County Democratic party, but less money, about $275,000, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The fourth candidate, Andrew Zwicker, a Princeton physicist like retiring Rep. Rush Holt, had little money and no county party organization backing.
Political observers like Murray say the winner will come down to who does a better job of getting supporters to the polls.
Whoever wins will take on Alieta Eck, a doctor who ran unsuccessfully last year for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, in November. But Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two-to-one in the district, which includes portions of Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties, and retiring Rep. Rush Holt has been winning handily — he got nearly 70 percent of the vote two years ago.
The other race expected to be close may wind up no contest now but the outcome could affect how tight the November race may be. Two former North Jersey mayors, Tom MacArthur and Steve Lonegan, are vying for the Republican nomination in the 3rd District, which includes parts of Burlington and Ocean counties.
Lonegan, an archconservative who lost to Booker last year, started with more name recognition due to his having run — unsuccessfully — in several statewide races. But MacArthur, a former insurance executive who loaned his campaign $2 million, had spent twice as much as Lonegan as of May 14. He also received the backing of the GOP in both counties and the endorsement of retiring Rep. Jon Runyan. A mid-May Monmouth Poll had MacArthur leading Lonegan by 11 points and Murray yesterday predicted that win would be 16 points.
While this has been a “red” district in recent years, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans slightly and two national political reports have characterized the 3rd as a toss-up in November. That could change, though, if the more moderate MacArthur wins, making it tougher for independent voters in the district to outright choose a Democrat. There is a three-man primary on the Democratic side, with Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard expected to best Howard Kleinhendler and Bruce Todd.
The race in Andrews’ former district, which covers parts of Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties, is crowded but not expected to be tight. State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) is likely to best Frank Broomell and Frank Minor on the “blue” side. The Republican contest is crowded, with former football player Garry Cobb, Collingswood business owner Claire Gustafson, Winslow Township real estate professional Gerald McManus, and Gibbstown equipment repairman Lee Lucas all vying for the right to be on the November ballot in a district they are unlikely to win. About 40 percent of registered voters in the 1st District are Democrats, compared with 14 percent Republicans.
While the Senate contest would usually garner the most attention, particularly with four Republicans vying for their party’s nomination, Booker is unopposed on the “blue” side and his popularity kept all the best known potential candidates out of the race. None of the Republicans has much name recognition and, combined, the four had raised less than $150,000 as of May 14.
Two of the four — Murray Sabrin and Jeff Bell — have run statewide campaigns before and lost. Bell raised the most money, $90,000, and has sent several mailers and done robo-calling to staunch GOP areas. A third candidate, Brian Goldberg, is a concrete contractor. Richard Pezzullo, the fourth, is a technology consultant. Goldberg recently won the endorsement of The Record, while The Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed Sabrin.
There’s little indication of a frontrunner. Murray did not poll on the race, saying he could not “justify spending more money to field a poll than most of the candidates have raised for their own campaigns.” His best guess is a win for Goldberg, the least conservative of the four.
There are several other primary contests, but none considered to be close:
In the southernmost district, the 2nd, Rep. Frank LoBiondo faces Republican challenger Mike Assad, who he beat two years ago. Democrats Bill Hughes, son of the man who held the seat for two decades, and David Cole are battling for their party’s nomination.
In the northernmost 5th District, Democrats Roy Cho and Diane Sare are competing for the right to challenge Rep. Scott Garrett in the fall.
In the 7th District in Central Jersey, businessman David Larsen is again challenging Rep. Leonard Lance for the Republican nomination. Democrat Janice Kovach is unopposed.
In the 10th District, which encompasses part of Newark and its environs, freshman Rep. Donald Payne Jr. has three Democratic opponents: Robert Louis Toussaint, Curtis Alphonzo Vaugh III and Aaron Fraser. Yolanda Dentley is the sole Republican.
In the 11th in North Jersey, Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen faces Rick Van Glahn. Three Democrats — Lee Anne Brogowski, Marc Dunec and Brian Murphy — are vying to challenge Frelinghuysen in November.
Both parties’ candidates in the 4th, 6th, 8th, and 9th districts are unopposed.
Polls are open statewide until 8 p.m. The NJ Division of Elections has a tool for finding a polling place — however, it does not work on Google Chrome.
NJ Spotlight will be providing live election results after the polls close.