Former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer formally announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate yesterday, becoming the third person to receive the backing of the Republican Party establishment.

The first two - millionaires Anne Evans Estabrook and Andy Unanue - dropped out of the race.

At a Statehouse news conference, Zimmer promised to cut pork-barrel spending and taxes and to bolster the state's economy.

"I'm running for Senate because I love New Jersey and I want to ensure that its future is one of opportunity, affordability and hope," he said.

He has some catching up to do. Two other Republicans, Murray Sabrin, a Ramapo College professor, and State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, a Morris County dentist, have been campaigning for months.

Pennacchio greeted Zimmer's entry into the race by suing him, saying his candidacy was a sham. Pennacchio also beat Zimmer at a restaged party convention on Zimmer's old turf in Hunterdon County.

Influential Republicans recently fielded Zimmer, saying the two conservative candidates were weak and out of touch with the party's moderate center.

Zimmer, 63, has served as both a U.S. representative and state legislator.

He said yesterday that he was confident he would have enough money to win the June 3 primary and Nov. 4 general election. A prodigious fund-raiser, Zimmer last ran for the Senate in 1996, when he lost to Democrat Robert G. Torricelli.

That race broke spending records and was one of the nastiest in recent memory.

A fiscal conservative, Zimmer favors abortion rights. He would not say how he would have voted on the October 2002 Iraq war resolution if he had been in Congress.

That issue has been the rage in the Democratic primary between incumbent Frank Lautenberg and his challenger, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews.

Both initially supported the war, and Andrews was a coauthor of the war resolution. Lautenberg, who was out of office in 2002, began casting votes against the war in 2003. Andrews now calls for a quick withdrawal.

In the House from 1991 until 1997, Zimmer wrote the federal Megan's Law, under which authorities must notify residents when a convicted sex offender moves into their neighborhoods.

In the 1980s, Zimmer was the prime Assembly sponsor of the state's farmland-preservation law.

The son of a mail carrier and an encyclopedia saleswoman, Zimmer was born in Newark, N.J., and spent much of his life in Hunterdon County. He also led New Jersey Common Cause, the citizens lobbying group, in the 1970s.

A Yale-educated lawyer, Zimmer is a lobbyist for Washington-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher L.L.P. He said yesterday that he planned to take a leave from the firm.

The three GOP candidates have agreed to debate Tuesday at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J. Democrats are still bickering over debates.

Dick Zimmer

Age:

63.

Education:

Zimmer has bachelor's and law degrees from Yale University.

Job:

He is of counsel to the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Experience:

He served in the Assembly from 1982 to 1987, the state Senate from 1987 to 1991, and the U.S. House from 1991 to 1997.

Personal:

He is married to Marfy Goodspeed and has two sons and three grandchildren. He lives on a small farm in Delaware Township, Hunterdon County.

Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or cburton@phillynews.com.