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Change on minds of N.J. voters

Change was on the minds of many New Jersey voters today.

U.S. Senate candidate and Congressman Robert Andrews kisses his wife, U.S. Congress candidate Camille Spinello Andrews, before voting in Haddon Heights 2008. Andrews is challenging Senator Frank Lautenberg for the Democrats' Senate nomination in New Jersey. (Tom Gralish / Inquirer)
U.S. Senate candidate and Congressman Robert Andrews kisses his wife, U.S. Congress candidate Camille Spinello Andrews, before voting in Haddon Heights 2008. Andrews is challenging Senator Frank Lautenberg for the Democrats' Senate nomination in New Jersey. (Tom Gralish / Inquirer)Read more

Change was on the minds of many New Jersey voters today.

In Camden County, Tina DeVita, 34, of Haddonfield, was focused on the race between Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews.

"I'm not against Frank Lautenberg; I'm just ready for a change," she said as she walked into the polling place at the United Methodist Church in Haddonfield. "I support Rob Andrews. You just have a good feeling. He's a good guy."

DeVita, an independent, said she is a friend of Andrews' wife, Camille, who is running for the congressman's seat in the First District.

"I'm concerned about the economy," she said. "I'm not sure how I feel about the war in Iraq. I come from a military family. I'm also concerned about health insurance. I think Robert Andrews would do a better job on these issues."

Another voter at the Haddonfield polling location, Jaye Spencer, 58, said she had been pleased with Lautenberg's performance but "he's too old.

"I'm ready to see South Jersey represented," she said. "Age is a factor and South Jersey is a factor. Rob Andrews is from South Jersey, and he's out and about. I know people who know him."

Haddonfield voter Michael Moskovitz, 42, said he was also ready for a change.

"South Jersey is a factor," he said. "I work in the engineering business related to transportation and South Jersey is usually short-changed on public transportation [spending].

"I want someone who is a little more for South Jersey, someone who knows what's going on in South Jersey."

In Burlington County, 19-year-old Sarah Buller of Lumberton was voting for the first time.

"I know Andrews supported the war in the beginning but I think I can forgive him for that," said Buller, a student at Cornell University in New York who was about to cast her ballot at the volunteer fire department on Main Street in Lumberton. "I also like that he's from South Jersey."

Throughout the day, turnout at South Jersey polls was light, though poll workers hoped more voters would show up after 5 p.m.

"We were hoping it would be a little better, but it's still early," said Jennica N. Bileci, township clerk for Washington Township, early this afternoon. The polls, which opened at 6 a.m., will close at 8.

Just before 3 p.m., Edwin Boogaard, 25, of Glassboro, stressed the importance of voting as he left the polls at Dorothy Bullock School in Glassboro.

"I always vote. It's important. I hate seeing people complain about things they don't vote on."

Among the most watched races today was the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate between Andrews and Lautenberg.

With his family, Andrews visited Baptist Regional School in Haddon Heights around 7 this morning to cast his vote.

"It's going to be a perfect day," said Andrews.

"I'm really excited, not only for myself but for Rob," said his wife, Camille. "It's the race of his life and I'm so happy for him."

With them were their daughters, Jackie, 15, and Josie, 13, and Camille's mother, Phyllis Wolf, 74.

Andrews' hope is to ring up big vote totals in the South and to pick off voters in the more populous North Jersey counties, where Lautenberg is much better known. The incumbent has the backing of much of the state's Democratic establishment, including six of the state's seven Democratic congressmen.

The race has not been without controversy. Andrews explained he leaped into the race April 2 because he didn't feel Lautenberg would run a "vigorous" enough campaign in the fall - one of many allusions Andrews has made on the trail to Lautenberg's age. Andrews is 50; Lautenberg, 84.

Lautenberg has touted his liberal record and, in the face of Andrews' comments on his age, has declared he is fit to serve a fifth term.

He has attacked Andrews for his early support of the Iraq war and for breaking his promise to support Lautenberg. Andrews now opposes the war.

Chris Troiani, 45, of Haddonfield, said he wasn't happy with the choices on the ballot.

"What bothered me was Andrews standing up with [President] Bush and voting for the Iraq war," he said after voting at Haddonfield Elementary School this morning. "But I voted for him anyway."

Competing in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate are State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, a Morris County dentist, and former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer of Hunterdon County. The winner is set to take a shot at becoming the first Republican to win a Senate seat since 1972.

Zimmer has the backing of the GOP establishment and is a substitute candidate for millionaire Goya Foods heir Andy Unanue, who was a substitute for millionaire developer Anne Evans Estabrook, who dropped out in March after suffering a mild stroke.

In other races, only three of the state's 13 House seats lack an incumbent seeking reelection. Two are in South Jersey, in the First and Third Districts.

Also, only two of New Jersey's House incumbents face primary challenges, and one is Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican in the Second District, which covers the state's southernmost counties. The other is Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican in North Jersey's 11th District.

In Andrews' climb for higher office, he said he was giving up his 18-year hold on the state's First District congressional seat, which covers parts of Camden, Gloucester and Burlington Counties. Democratic leaders had little time to field a candidate, so they ran his wife as a potential placeholder. If she wins, they expect to select another candidate for the fall ballot.

Two other Democrats are vying for the seat: Camden teacher and Vietnam veteran Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad and John Caramanna of Blackwood. The GOP endorsed Dale Glading, a prison minister from Barrington. He is running against Fernando Powers, of Blackwood, who is aligned with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Murray Sabrin, a Ramapo College professor.

The Sabrin forces have aligned themselves with unendorsed congressional candidates in five of the state's 13 congressional districts to give Sabrin good field position on the ballots there.

Citing health reasons, Republican Rep. Jim Saxton, 65, declined to run again in the Third District, which spans Burlington and Ocean Counties, prompting a raucous battle on the GOP side.

Burlington County's Republican Party is backing Chris Myers, the mayor of Medford and a Lockheed Martin vice president. Ocean county's machine is behind Freeholder Jack Kelly.

Myers cast his ballot at 10 a.m. at the Cranberry Elementary School in Marlton, where poll workers said turnout was "very light."

"We thought it would be heavier because of the race to fill Saxton's seat," said poll worker Grace Downs.

By late afternoon, Bob Kipp, 66, of Lumberton, still hadn't made up his mind over whom to vote for.

"It's a toss-up," he said. "Taxes are important to me. Myers and Kelly have promised to cut taxes. I think the war will wind up in a couple years no matter who gets in there."

Myers and Kelly have exchanged numerous jabs and insults in recent weeks. Myers insists Kelly took a patronage job at the Atlantic City airport to pad his pension, and said Kelly should return "waive-out" fees he received for not joining the airport's heath-care plan. Kelly says he worked for his money and benefits. And, Kelly has accused Myers of being an influence peddler because he works for a defense contractor that spends millions on lobbyists and campaign contributions. Myers said he has done nothing unethical.

Justin Murphy also is seeking the Saxton's seat as a Republican.

The winner will face State Sen. John Adler (D., Camden), who has used these last few months to build an election machine and raise more than $1.4 million. Although the district has long been in Republican hands, Adler has the backing of national Democrats who believe they can pick up the Third District seat.

The Democratic Party also is looking to take over the Seventh District congressional seat, which runs through parts of Union, Somerset, Hunterdon and Middlesex Counties, with Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D., Union). Stender ran two years ago against U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson, a Republican, and came within a single percentage point of victory.

Ferguson is retiring, opening up a rare opportunity for the eight Republicans vying in the GOP primary. Most well known among them are State Sen. Leonard Lance (R., Hunterdon) and Kate Whitman, daughter of former Gov. Christie Whitman.

At the Shore, the most interesting race is the Democratic primary for Atlantic City mayor. Because the city is overwhelmingly Democratic, today's winner is strongly favored to win in November. The three-way primary includes Mayor Scott Evans, former Mayor Lorenzo Langford, and former acting Mayor Domenic Capella.

There is a GOP primary for two freeholder seats and the clerk's job in Burlington County, Democratic and Republican primaries for two freeholder seats in Camden County, and a few municipal skirmishes in Gloucester County.