In the strange race for Congress in South Jersey's First District, the most powerful candidate is like Lord Voldemort - He Who Must Not Be Named.

He (or maybe she) is a Democrat, well-known in Camden, Gloucester and Burlington Counties, probably holding another public office. But don't look for his name on Tuesday's primary election ballot.

He is not running. Not yet.

Instead, the Democratic wizards of South Jersey have come up with a plan to reverse the usual order of nominating a candidate. First, they'll hold an election. Then, they'll select a candidate.

Because Democratic Rep. Robert E. Andrews decided at the last minute to give up his seat to wage an uphill battle to oust U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, no prominent Democrat was prepared to file for the office by the April 7 deadline.

"There are a lot of life-altering decisions they have to evaluate before they jump in," explained Richard Perr, Burlington County Democratic chairman. "Like maybe taking a decrease in salary, dealing with where they would live, how it would affect their relationship with their family."

No matter. Camille Andrews, the incumbent's wife, agreed to file as a candidate to replace her husband with the understanding that after the election, she would be willing to step aside for the Real Candidate.

She is one of three Democrats and two Republicans on the primary ballot in a district that has not elected a Republican since 1972.

But much of the attention has focused on the names that aren't on the ballot. Among the 30 or so people considered possible candidates are Perr, Camden County Freeholder Louis Cappelli Jr. of Collingswood, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald of Voorhees, Assemblyman and Paulsboro Mayor John Burzichelli, State Sen. and Gloucester County Freeholder Stephen Sweeney, and State Sen. and Camden City Council member Dana Redd.

Rob Andrews has represented the district, dominated by Camden County and including adjacent parts of Gloucester and Burlington Counties, since 1990, when he won a special election after James J. Florio resigned to become governor.

Andrews has said he will not try to regain his seat if he loses to Lautenberg on Tuesday.

Camille Andrews, 48, a lawyer and former dean at the Rutgers Law School in Camden, and now managing director for the investment firm Context Balance Capital in Bala Cynwyd, said she is serious about running. And about stepping aside, if called upon to do so.

"I'm running because I'm qualified," she said yesterday. "I'm a lawyer, a teacher, a businesswoman, a mother. At the same time, I'm absolutely committed to a fair process. I'm not asking for a coronation from anybody."

"I'm a compromise choice on short notice."

The other two Democratic candidates on the ballot are Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad, 63, a social studies teacher at Camden High School, and John Caramanna, 25, a self-employed public-relations consultant in Blackwood.

None of the candidates has run a highly visible campaign, and Camille Andrews, with her name recognition and the party organization's support, is the odds-on favorite.

She expects to be seriously considered by the county and municipal party leaders who will pick the Real Candidate late this summer, she said.

"I told them I didn't feel comfortable signing the petition papers if they wouldn't seriously consider me," she said. "I expect there will be a lot of lobbying by people between now and August."

She said she expected the selection would not be made until after the Democratic National Convention, which concludes Aug. 28 in Denver.

On the issues, Andrews said she would push to get all American troops out of Iraq by Memorial Day 2009. She described the economy as the nation's biggest problem, and said she wanted to repeal the Bush tax cuts for wealthy taxpayers and use the money to buttress Social Security and underwrite payments for prescription drugs for Medicare recipients.

She said she does not support universal government-funded health insurance, but would seek to prevent employers from avoiding paying for health insurance by hiring workers part-time.

Camille Andrews, 48, married Rob Andrews in 1993, after the two had become friends during the fight to save the Philadelphia Navy Yard - she as a lawyer at Dilworth Paxson, he as congressman. She had lost two husbands, one in a car accident and one to cancer.

On the Republican side, Dale Glading, director of Saints Prison Ministry in Moorestown, is advocating lower taxes, reduced government spending, keeping troops in Iraq until the "country is stabilized," traditional family values, and a ban on most abortions.

Glading, 48, was the first candidate of either party to launch TV ads, which began airing Wednesday.

He said the district's long dominance by Democrats may work in his favor.

"They're so convinced that this seat belongs to them that they think they can do whatever they want. It speaks of arrogance, it speaks of entitlement, it speaks of corruption.

"After 33 years of one-party rule, they've taken their voters for granted."

The other Republican candidate is Fernando Powers, 41, a disabled veteran who is campaigning to get the troops out of Iraq, reduce government spending, rein in the Federal Reserve, stop funding the United Nations, and block efforts to ban assault weapons.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.