Races for Congress are in the spotlight as NJ voters prepare to vote in the presidential and state primaries on Tuesday.
Most of the drama in Tuesday’s primary shifted to some northern NJ contests, after former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney appeared to win enough delegates on May 30 to secure the Republican presidential nomination.
This primary election is for both Presidential and state offices, including a four-way GOP Senate contest and open Congressional and State Assembly seats up for grabs in special election voting.
Two veteran Democrats battling each other for a seat in New Jersey's downsized congressional delegation reached for the party's star power the weekend before primary voters go to the polls on Tuesday: Rep. Steve Rothman strolled with President Obama down the White House colonnade, while Rep. Bill Pascrell shared a stage with former President Clinton for a get-out-the-vote rally in Paterson.
New Jersey's marquee primary battle in the newly drawn 9th District -- in Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties -- is one of two competitive primaries in the state. The other battleground is in the redrawn 10th District, which encompasses parts of Essex, Hudson and Union counties. There, Democrats will choose among six candidates to succeed Rep. Donald Payne, Sr., New Jersey's first African-American congressman, who died in March.
The winners in the 9th and 10th are almost guaranteed of being elected to Congress in November because both districts are solidly Democratic.
The reality for New Jersey voters is that most primaries are either uncontested or the incumbent faces only token opposition.
“We only see primary contests when there's an open seat or in the rare occasion when we have two incumbents pitted against each other,” said political scientist Patrick Murray.
Murray, of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said fewer than 20 percent of New Jersey's 5.3 million registered voters are expected to go to the polls on Tuesday. Most are partisan faithful or citizens who are bound to vote by their own sense of civic duty, regardless of whether there's a real race.
At the top of the ticket, New Jerseyans will cast ballots for their party's nominee for president in what is essentially a moot vote. Obama is unchallenged on the Democratic side. Mitt Romney, who has secured the support needed to be the Republican nominee, according to The Associated Press count, faces three challengers who have withdrawn from the race but whose names still appear on the ballot: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.
Voters will choose a U.S. senator in November, and primary voters will set up that contest. The fall matchup is all but certain to pit Sen. Bob Menendez, the incumbent Democrat, against GOP challenger Joe Kyrillos, who has served in the New Jersey Legislature for 24 years.
Menendez, 58, seeking his second six-year term, is running unopposed in the primary. Kyrillos, 52, who Gov. Chris Christie has endorsed, faces three unknown challengers, none of whom had more than $9,000 on hand for the race. In contrast, Menendez has banked $9.4 million and Kyrillos had $1.4 million as of the most recent federal reporting deadline.
A Quinnipiac University poll taken in May showed Menendez with a 10-point lead over Kyrillos, 45-35, but 25 percent have a negative opinion of the incumbent and 75 percent say they don't know the challenger.
In Congress, New Jersey's representation will shrink from 13 members to 12 after November. That means either Rothman or Pascrell will be squeezed out of a job because the newly configured congressional map merged their districts.
Rothman, 59, considers the new 9th "my home district" because he's represented 28 of its 35 municipalities as a member of Congress. Nonetheless, Pascrell, 75, is among those who think Rothman committed an act of treason by challenging him instead of going after conservative Scott Garrett in the new Republican-dominant 5th District.
Rothman may have the numeric edge on paper, but Pascrell can by no means be counted out, even in a district that is 70 percent new. The race had tightened in the final weeks.
In the neighboring 10th District, Donald Payne Jr. hopes to succeed his father in Congress. He's being challenged by fellow Newark City Councilman Ron Rice, state Sen. Nia Gill and Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith; Cathy Wright of Newark and Dennis Flynn of Glen Ridge round out the field.
Payne has the party line in Essex County, where more than 65 percent of voters reside. Gill has the line in Hudson, where about a fifth of the electorate live. Union Democrats didn't endorse a primary candidate.
Tenth district voters will also choose someone to represent them for the remainder of the elder Payne's term, which ends in January.
Also in Congress, two-term Republican Leonard Lance of Clinton Township is expected to fend off a challenge by conservative David Larsen of Oldwick to represent the 7th District; and Tea Party favorite Anna Little hopes to win a GOP primary in the 6th District, enabling her to battle incumbent Democrat Frank Pallone in November, as she did two years ago. In the Cherry Hill area, former Philadelphia Eagle Jon Runyan, a Republican, is unopposed, as is his November opponent, Shelley Adler, widow of former Rep. John Adler, who Runyan beat two years ago.
Three legislative districts -- the 4th, 16th and 26th -- will have primaries for unexpired terms in the state Assembly.
Polls will be open for the NJ primary on Tuesday from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.