U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg easily repelled a primary challenge from South Jersey Congressman Rob Andrews today, ending the Democratic party's unexpected family feud.
With more than two-thirds of votes counted, Lautenberg held a 2-to-1 advantage, following a day of light voter turnout around the state.
In the general election, Lautenberg will face former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer, who defeated State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio and Ramapo College professor Murray Sabrin in yesterday's Republican primary.
Lautenberg, in his acceptance speech, focused on national issues, pledging to work to bring the troops home from Iraq and to elect a Democrat to the White House.
"So much remains to be done and I'm going to continue that fight for you," he told supporters in Newark. "We're going to put our country back together."
Republican voters in two of the state's rare GOP strongholds - Ocean and Burlington County - had their own internecine fight to settle.
In the Third Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. H. James Saxton is retiring, Medford Mayor Chris Myers defeated Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly after a bitter campaign.
In the Democratic Senate primary, Andrews announced a last-minute campaign in April, and he turned to the controversial tactic of suggesting the 84-year-old incumbent was too old to serve another six-year term.
But in his concession speech, Andrews said he would be backing Lautenberg in the fall.
"I'm supporting him and I'm hoping you'll do the same thing," he told his supporters in Cherry Hill. "We will be unified, we will be together."
As expected, turnout was light without national candidates on the ballot. New Jersey moved up its presidential primary this year to Feb. 5, attracting record numbers of voters.
For those at the polls, the Andrews-Lautenberg showdown was the main attraction.
For some South Jersey voters, the race highlighted the state's geographic split and the perception that politicians give preferential treatment to North Jersey.
Haddonfield voter Michael Moskovitz, 42, said he preferred Andrews over Lautenberg, a resident of Cliffside Park in Bergen County.
"I want someone who is a little more for South Jersey, someone who knows what's going on in South Jersey," Moskovitz said.
Andrews had been counting on a big turnout in his backyard, and he picked off some support from the North Jersey Democratic machines. He said he had won 80 percent of the vote in Camden and Gloucester counties.
But Lautenberg maintained the lion's share of backing in Essex, Hudson and Bergen counties, three of the most populous Democratic areas.
He also made good use of his fortune, tapping more than $1.6 million of his own money for the campaign, and he has been a familiar name to voters for three decades.
Lautenberg served three terms in the Senate before retiring in 2001. Two years later, when U.S. Sen. Robert Toricelli quit his reelection bid because of an ethics inquiry, party bosses turned to Lautenberg to fill the seat.
Andrews has represented the First Congressional District, which covers parts of Camden, Gloucester and Burlington Counties, for 18 years.
But he has held ambitions for higher office, narrowly losing the 1997 gubernatorial primary to Jim McGreevey, and making a play for the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Jon Corzine became governor.
Corzine appointed Robert Menendez to fill the term.
Andrews' candidacy this year shocked the Democratic establishment - including the six other Democrats in the state's House delegation, who also may have been eyeing Lautenberg's job. Andrews announced in early April, late enough to prevent the others from mounting a campaign.
Early in the campaign, Andrews made a subtle issue of Lautenberg's age. As the primary neared, he began airing commercials that explicitly noted that his 84-year-old opponent would reach his ninth decade in the next term.
Andrews, 50, said Lautenberg wouldn't run a "vigorous" enough campaign in the fall, and linked him to "tired, old, status-quo politics."
Lautenberg countered by touting his liberal credentials and proclaiming himself fit for a fifth term. He also reminded voters that Andrews co-authored the 2002 Iraq War resolution.
Andrews' age gambit seemed to backfire with Moorestown voter George Banks, 64.
"Andrews is young, and some of the issues that he presented against Lautenberg I didn't like," he said. "Lautenberg still has a sound mind. What difference does it make how old he is?"
After the polls closed, Andrews and his supporters gathered at Camden County Democratic Committee headquarters. He called Lautenberg to congratulate him before giving his concession speech around 10 p.m.
"Imagine what would have happened if we won," he said.
Andrews gave up his seat in the House, though his wife, Camille, ran in his place and won the Democratic primary. Andrews did not say what his plans were for the future.
"I'm not going to be a professional football player," he joked.
At Lautenberg's campaign rally, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone said Andrews' negative attacks had backfired.
"I think that when you're running against an incumbent, you'd have to explain why you're an alternative, and I don't know that he did that," Pallone said.