One man's retirement and another's attempt to keep working into his 80s have pushed the focus of New Jersey politics in Tuesday's primary election to South Jersey.

U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews, of Camden County, is running an unexpected campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg in the Democratic primary. Andrews says Lautenberg, 84, is too old to be sent back to Washington for six more years.

In the Third Congressional District, Republican U.S. Rep. H. James Saxton's decision to retire for health reasons set off a rough primary battle between two of the state's most efficient and well-funded GOP machines.

The confrontation between Republican leaders in Ocean and Burlington Counties is so bitter that the two candidates called off their only debate.

Meanwhile, the presumptive Third District Democratic nominee and the Republican Senate candidates are getting lost in the dust - despite doing their best to get attention.

One of the biggest worries of some campaigns is that voters won't even know to show up at the polls Tuesday. After casting ballots Feb. 5 in the state's first early presidential primary, many may think that was it.

But there are races to be decided Tuesday all around the region.

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.

Andrews, challenging the better-known and better-financed Lautenberg, has been campaigning around the state. He has a mostly solid base in South Jersey, and has been getting some support from factions of political machines in central and North Jersey.

"We've exploited some fissures in county and municipal organizations," said Mike Murphy, Andrews' campaign spokesman.

To win, a challenger generally must prove the incumbent is worth dumping.

"Voters have been married to Frank Lautenberg for 25 years. You need to give them a good reason before jumping into bed with Rob Andrews," said Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth University's Polling Institute.

This weekend, Andrews is running a new campaign ad in which the father of a Marine killed in Iraq complains that Lautenberg failed to help him get his son's Purple Heart. Murray said the ad was "too little too late."

Frustrated after losing the 1997 gubernatorial primary and being passed over for the seat that Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez now holds, Andrews broke with the party to mount his campaign this year.

Among those surprised were the six other Democrats in the state's House delegation, who, like Andrews, wanted Lautenberg out of the way so they could seek his seat. They hoped that Lautenberg would retire midterm, and that Gov. Corzine would appoint one of them to replace him.

Andrews decided to make his own move and announced his candidacy late enough - in early April - so that none of the others could scramble together a credible campaign of his own.

From the outset, Lautenberg and Andrews have slashed each other in public statements and ads.

Lautenberg has run television ads since April 14 attacking Andrews' early support of the Iraq war. Andrews now opposes the war.

Five weeks later, on May 20, Andrews began his television campaign, which included a call on the ghost of Millicent Fenwick to slam Lautenberg for being 84. Andrews' ad noted that Lautenberg had implied Fenwick was too old to run when he opposed her in 1982. At the time, Fenwick was 72.

The third Democrat, Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello, a virtual unknown outside his area, has had little money to run a statewide campaign.

New Jersey Republicans looking to win a U.S. Senate seat for the first time since 1972 have had their own turmoil.

The party establishment's promising standard-bearer, self-funding millionaire developer Anne Evans Estabrook, dropped out of the race March 5 after a mild stroke.

Party leaders trolled for another self-funding millionaire and found Andy Unanue, an heir to the Goya Foods fortune. But Unanue wouldn't leave a Vail, Colo., vacation to announce his candidacy on New Jersey soil. At the same time, Democrats were crowing that Unanue didn't even have a legal residence in the Garden State. He dropped out, sending Republicans on another hunt.

They ultimately found former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer, who is not a self-funding millionaire but is familiar to some Republican voters.

Also running is Libertarian-turned-Republican Murray Sabrin. When establishment Republicans settled on Zimmer, Sabrin joked that they must have gone through their phone book and gotten to Z.

Sabrin captured the endorsement of former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, the GOP's much-better-known conservative standard-bearer.

State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, a dentist from Morris County, took to the GOP trail early. Although he's an office holder, the party establishment turned its back on him. Pennacchio ran into trouble when he failed to report his ownership of a crumbling and vacant Coney Island apartment house on his federal candidate-disclosure report. His campaign said it was an innocent omission.

Pennacchio took Zimmer to task for living on a farm and taking advantage of the state's lower tax rate for farm properties, saying Zimmer was trying to avoid paying taxes. Zimmer noted that the 25-acre Delaware Township home had been a working farm for centuries.

Even more personal is the Republican primary for Saxton's seat in the Third District, which runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County.

Burlington County fielded the little-known Chris Myers, the mayor of Medford and a vice president at Lockheed Martin, the county's biggest employer. Myers has touted his Navy service and is working the district's large number of veterans and their families.

Ocean County fielded Freeholder Jack Kelly, who is familiar to Ocean County voters but barely known in Burlington County.

Because they agree on many issues, Myers and Kelly have torn away at each other's character. Myers' hardest shot came when he called Kelly a political hack, saying Kelly had taken a job at Atlantic City International Airport to pad his pension. Kelly landed a blow when he alleged that Myers was a part of the Washington pay-to-play game because he worked for a defense contractor.

The winner of that race will face State Sen. John H. Adler (D., Camden), who has raised more than $1 million. While Kelly and Myers have spent several hundred thousand dollars demeaning each other, Adler has held on to his cash, waiting for the general election.

Though the district has been in Republican hands for decades, Democrats believe changing demographics will be on their side in November.

Tuesday's New Jersey Primary

Democrats and Republicans will head to the polls Tuesday for the state primary. Here are some questions and answers about the vote:

What races will be on the ballot?

Voters in each party will select one U.S. Senate candidate, one House candidate, and candidates for county and local offices. The winners from each party will run in the Nov. 4 general election, when all 13 of New Jersey's House seats and one of its two U.S. Senate seats will be decided.

Didn't New Jersey have a primary in February?

Yes, but it was only for presidential candidates.

Who can vote?

Registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in their party races only. Registered voters who are unaffiliated must choose a party at the polls if they wish to vote.

Can I still register to vote on Tuesday?

No, but you have until Oct. 14 to register for the Nov. 4 general election.

How do I find my polling place?

Go to

.

What documents do I need to take to vote?

You must show identification such as a driver's license, U.S. passport, or student, job, military, government or store-membership ID card.

Do I have to vote in person?

No. You can vote by absentee ballot. You may apply in person - or by an authorized messenger if you're sick or confined - to your county clerk until 3 p.m. tomorrow. Your county Board of Elections must receive your absentee ballot by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

What time are polls open?

6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

What is the expected turnout?

In 2006, the last time New Jersey picked nominees for a U.S. Senate seat and House seats, about 7 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, but that year lacked the competitive races on this year's ballot.

SOURCE: Associated Press

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