NJ primary makes Menendez vs Kyrillos official

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Kyrillos speaks at a Tax Day Tea Summit held at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Monday, April 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

June 5, 2012 7:09:04 PM PDT
Donald Payne Jr. defeated five other challengers to win a Democratic primary in the Newark area to succeed his late father in Congress. He also won a special election to finish out the 12th term of his father, who died in March.

Elsewhere in New Jersey, two eight-term Democratic representatives battled each other in a bid to remain in Congress in the other competitive House race in Tuesday's primary, while Republicans picked state Sen. Joe Kyrillos to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez in November.

Republican Mitt Romney - who had already secured the support needed to win the GOP nomination - won the state at the top of the ticket. He had faced three challengers who withdrew from the race but whose names still appeared on the ballot: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

The state's marquee primary on the Democratic side pitted U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman against U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell in a newly redrawn 9th District in Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties. The district was reconfigured this year as a result of population changes that are costing the state a seat in the House, shrinking New Jersey's representation to 12 after November.

Pascrell, 75, got a helping hand from former President Bill Clinton, and Rothman, 59, from President Barack Obama.

Though the two former friends have similar voting records, Rothman tried to portray Pascrell as the more conservative candidate. Pascrell attacked Rothman for not running against a Republican congressman in a neighboring district, which would have avoided a showdown between two Democratic incumbents.

A judge ruled that 2,000 absentee ballots could be counted despite a complaint by Rothman about possible irregularities.

In the other competitive House primary, voters in Essex, Hudson and Union counties chose to send Payne, the Newark City Council president and an Essex County officeholder, to Washington to assume the seat of his late father. Donald Payne Sr., New Jersey's first black representative, held New Jersey's 10th Congressional District seat.

Payne Jr. beat out fellow Newark Councilman Ron Rice, state Sen. Nia Gill and three others challengers.

He had the party line on the ballot in Essex County, where more than 65 percent of voters reside. Gill had the line in Hudson, where about a fifth of the electorate live. Union Democrats didn't endorse a primary candidate.

The winners in the two House races are virtually guaranteed November victories in the solidly Democratic districts.

Kyrillos, who has served in the New Jersey Legislature for 24 years, faced three little-known challengers in the race for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate. Menendez, a Democratic incumbent now in his second term, was unopposed in the primary.

Menendez said his campaign will focus on the state's middle-class residents - "not about bringing the powerful down, but raising the middle-class up."

He congratulated Kyrillos and said he looked forward to an honorable campaign.

Menendez had banked $9.4 million and Kyrillos $1.4 million as of the most recent federal reporting deadline. Besides needing to raise more money, Kyrillos faces the challenge of having to build greater name recognition. An opinion poll last month found 75 percent of respondents didn't know him.

In the 7th District, encompassing Hunterdon County, two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance of Clinton Township was expected to fend off a challenge by conservative David Larsen of Oldwick for the GOP nomination.

In the 6th District, in the Monmouth-Middlesex area, Tea Party favorite Anna Little hoped to win the GOP primary and the right to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone in November, as she did two years ago.

In the 3rd District, Democrat Shelley Adler was unopposed in her bid for the Democratic nomination and the right to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan, a former Philadelphia Eagles lineman, who also had no opposition. Alder is the widow of former U.S. Rep. John Adler, who Runyan beat two years ago.

Incumbent Democrats Rob Andrews in the 1st District and Albio Sires in the 8th and incumbent Republicans Frank LoBiondo in the 2nd District, Chris Smith in the 4th District and Scott Garrett in the 5th won their party primaries.

Three legislative districts - the 4th, 16th and 26th - had primaries Tuesday for unexpired terms in the state Assembly. In the 26th, Republican Betty Lou DeCroce, widow of the former Assembly leader, won.