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New Jersey's congressional races: after the primaries

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Last Tuesday, New Jersey voters went to the polls to vote in the state's primary elections. Besides a few contested primaries, there was not much tension and drama. By night's end, the races for November were set and an even less contentious slate ahead based on polls and the state of each congressional district.

The most talked about Democratic primary took place in the 12th Congressional District. Heading into the primary election, it looked like a tight finish between Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) and state Senator Linda Greenstein (D-14). In the end, Watson Coleman pulled away and the outcome was not nearly as close as expected.

After clinching her party's nomination, Watson Coleman would state;

We take nothing for granted. We’re going to work very hard.

Watson Coleman would go onto to rack up over 15,000 votes or 43% of the vote compared to Greenstein who finished with a little under 10,000 or 28% of the vote. Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-17) finished not too far behind with 22% of the vote while Princeton physics professor Andrew Zwicker finished with 7% of the vote.

Greenstein looked to be in good position with her major lead in mail-in ballots but Watson Coleman ran up big numbers in swing areas like Plainfield.

On the Republican side, Franklin Township doctor Alieta Eck won an uncontested primary. It now sets up an all female contest to determine the next member of Congress from the 12th Congressional District. The district was far from a sure win for Democrats when Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ12) was originally elected over a decade ago but besides 2010 it has been a safe seat for the party. At the moment, it looks very much like that and Watson Coleman should be favored to retain the seat for her party and become the first woman in over a decade and sixth overall to be elected to Congress. New Jersey is one of the few states without a woman among their congressional delegation. Watson Coleman would also be the first African American woman elected to Congress and follow in Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)'s historic win last October.

Watson Coleman would comment on her chance to make history this fall by voicing,

I believe that Congress and our Legislature always benefit from having someone that sees the issues and the needs and the opportunities through the lens of both the women and the minorities.

Congressman Holt would also add,

I look forward to talking with voters about Bonnie Watson Coleman, who I’m confident will be a fierce advocate for progressive issues in Washington, as she has been in the Legislature.

In the wake of her loss, Greenstein would express;

I’ll figure out what I’m going to do and continue to be a senator. I must enjoy my life with or without Congress, though I sure would have liked to go.

Despite having an uphill climb, Eck is undeterred going into the general election. She would utter,

I’m going to prove them wrong. The message I have resonates with every group, the message that we don’t have to have government as usual. Our economy is at the bottom of the other states, and it’s because of the policies of these legislators.

Watson Coleman has already hinted at not taking Eck or the race lightly.

The other contested congressional race of the night took place in the 3rd Congressional District and its Republican primary. Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and former Randolph Mayor Tom MacArthur were both hoping to win their party's nomination. Down the stretch MacArthur had an 11 point edge over Lonegan and in the end MacArthur would win 60% of the vote compared to Lonegan's 40% to clinch the GOP nomination.

In the wake of his victory, MacArthur would state;

I pledge today to be a different kind of Congressman. One who will care more about solutions than finger-pointing and bring people together to restore our country and get America working again.

While Lonegan would express,

From the first day of this race my goal was to provide third district voters with a clear, conservative message and principled vision. I am proud of the campaign we ran and the effort that my team put forth. Unfortunately, we could not overcome the millions of dollars spent against us in negative attack ads. We may have lost tonight, but the fight for our conservative values continues. We must hold those nominated by the Republican party accountable. That means voting like a conservative not a liberal and it means repealing Obamacare not replacing it with Obamacare light. I intend to continue to speak out on the issues that matter to us - because America is worth fighting for.

Both MacArthur and Lonegan were transplants to the district. That aspect could become a larger campaign talking point in the general election. The same could be said of MacArthur's willingness to pour as much of his own money as necessary into the race after already contributing over $2 million while hardly getting any donations.

While the CD-12 Democratic primary race had some testy moments, it was not nearly as bitter as the CD-3 Republican primary race.

MacArthur will face Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard in an open race this fall. Belgard took 84% of the vote in her three way primary race. Howard Kleinhendler got 12% of the vote and Bruce Todd got 5% of the vote.

Elsewhere in the state, state Senator Donald Norcross (D-5) won the three way Democratic primary with 72% of the vote while Frank Broomell received 15% and Frank Minor received 13% respectively. On the Republican side, former Philadelphia Eagles player and radio personality Gary Cobb emerged from a four man primary with 68% of the vote. Claire Gustafson received 14%, Gerald McManus received 9%, and Lee Lucas received 8% respectively. The race heavily favors Norcross.

With the general election in mind, Cobb would voice;

We all know we face a tough opponent. The Norcross political machine believes they can pick and choose our elected officials at will ... They will spare no expense.

While Norcross would exclaim,

Congress isn't made up with people with resumes like me. That's the part I'm really focused on. I understand what working families need. My focus is going to be talking about my vision. It's about jobs, affordable education and getting our fair share. That's what I'm going to continue to talk about. That's what I hear day in, and day out.

Also, in a weird twist of fate, Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ2) will face the son of a man he tried to unseat and eventually succeeded two decades ago. Congressman Bill Hughes served as the member of Congress from 1975 to 1995. That is when LoBiondo was elected in an open election. Since then, the district has become a safe seat for the Republican Party. LoBiondo fended off a primary challenge again by Mike Assad taking 82% to Assad's 18%. Bill Hughes Jr. faced his own primary challenge from David Cole; winning by the same margin.

In 1992, LoBiondo attempted to unseat the senior Hughes and failed. Now, the junior Hughes will attempt to defeat LoBiondo this year.

The 4th Congressional District saw two uncontested primary races with Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ4) and Ruben Scolavino officially clinching their party's nominations.

Congressman Scott Garrett (R-NJ5) also was unopposed and will face Roy Cho who won his Democratic primary over Diane Sare with 90% of the vote to her 10%.

In the 6th Congressional District, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ6) and Anthony Wilkerson won uncontested primaries and will face off this November.

Congressman Leonard Lance was able to turn back the challenge of David Larsen for the third time in a race more reflective of their 2010 primary than their 2012 primary with 54% of the vote to Larsen's 46%. Janice Kovach won her uncontested Democratic primary and will try to unseat Lance.

The 8th and 9th Congressional Districts featured uncontested primaries for both parties. Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ8) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ9) will face Jude Tiscornia and Diedre Paul respectively in November.

While he did have three challengers, Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ10) cruised to victory in his primary with 91% of the vote. Robert Toussaint received 5%, Aaron Fraser received 3%, and Curtis Vaughn received 1%. Congressman Payne will face Yolanda Dentley, who won an uncontested primary.

Finally, in the 11th Congressional District; Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11) held off the challenge of Rick Van Glahn generating 67% of the vote to Van Glahn's 33%. Congressman Frelinghuysen now turns his attention to Mark Dunec, who won in a landslide in his three way race with 76% of the vote. Brian Murphy and Lee Anne Brogowski each received 12% of the vote.

There was also a special primary election for former Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ1)'s seat with only the Democrats fielding candidates and Norcross winning against his two opponents by similar margins.

With the primary elections finished, races around the state will likely lack much flair. Three open seat races will be taking places. The one in CD-3 will certainly be the one to watch as both parties will be hoping to have that seat in their column at the end of the night on November 4th. It was a contested race in 2008 when Democrats flipped it in their favor after over 100 years and was just as crucial for both parties in 2010 when Republicans took it back. The district is not as much as a toss up as it was before the 2011 redistricting process but becomes more so with no incumbent.

Entering the year there were six Democrats and six Republicans in Congress from New Jersey. The one thing that will definitely change is three of those individuals have either retired or will retire. If the delegation remains six from each party is something still to be determined. Also, either Watson Coleman or Eck will become the first female from New Jersey in Congress in over a decade.

Politics as usual in the Garden State looks like the recipe at the moment.

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