TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – Two of New Jersey’s best-known candidates sailed to victory unopposed in Tuesday’s primary election, while two of the Legislature’s most entrenched Democrats were in a fight for their political lives.
Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis won an uncontested primary for the Democratic nomination for a seat in the state Senate.
Lewis, 49, still has legal hurdles before his name can appear on the general election ballot in November against Republican Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego. Republicans have challenged the former track and field star’s candidacy, saying Lewis doesn’t meet New Jersey’s four-year residency rule.
Republican Richard Kanka, an advocate for tougher sex offender residency laws after his 7-year-old daughter Megan was murdered in
1994, was uncontested in a Republican Senate primary in Mercer and Middlesex counties.
Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democratic Union County powerbroker and 34-year state lawmaker, was in a tougher fight. He and running mates Joe Cryan and Annette Quijano, both Assembly incumbents, were in a battle to retain elected office against a slate with ties to the Elizabeth Board of Education, a rival political machine. Cryan holds the second most powerful post in the Assembly, majority leader.
The incumbents have raised more than $2.5 million; their campaign has included robocalls from former President Bill Clinton. The challengers’ campaign funds were partly frozen by a judge after Lesniak sued, claiming the Democrats for Change slate didn’t meet disclosure requirements.
GOP Sen. Anthony Bucco faced a nasty primary challenge from Morris County Freeholder William Chegwidden, the mayor of Wharton. The two traded barbs that included Bucco accusing his rival of triple-dipping as a teacher, mayor and freeholder, and Chegwidden bringing up a sexual harassment suit against Bucco that was settled in 2004.
Overall, there was little intrigue in the primary, with just 18 incumbent legislators facing intraparty challenges to determine who will represent their party in the November general election. All 120 seats in the state Legislature — 40 in the Senate and 80 in the Assembly — are up in the fall.
Political scientist Patrick Murray said most intraparty fights are worked out in private meetings rather than primaries, but a handful of incumbents are exceptions this year.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. No polling problems were reported. Turnout was expected to be less than 10 percent.
Redistricting done earlier this year based on the most recent U.S. Census means several incumbents found themselves in districts with different configurations.
The new voting map favors Democrats, being able to keep their majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Democrats control the Senate 24-16 and the Assembly 47-33.
That didn’t stop the governor, Republican Chris Christie, from urging constituents at a town hall in Toms River to elect Republicans in November.
“If you all come out and turn out for Republicans this fall, maybe I’ll have a Republican Legislature,” Christie told his supporters, who cheered their approval.
Samantha Henry in Elizabeth and Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton contributed to this report.
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