In the waning hours before tomorrow's primary election, Democratic Senate candidates Rep. Rob Andrews and incumbent Sen. Frank Lautenberg stayed close to home yesterday, working to turn out their core supporters.
Lautenberg focused on church services and ethnic festivals in North Jersey, while Andrews campaigned in his base of South Jersey, visiting diners, supermarkets and community events.
At the Crystal Lake Diner in Westmont yesterday, Andrews worked the lunchtime crowd, shaking hands and chatting.
Bill Wilson, 53, and George Booth, 85, both of Oaklyn, greeted Andrews warmly and assured him of their votes.
"I think he has a great track record for things that are important to people in this state," Wilson said. "He's always been in touch with the common people in this area."
John Sikorski, 51, of Haddon Township, wasn't so sure.
"I haven't decided," he said. "I have a hard time making up my mind." His wife, Eileen, and his mother, Elizabeth, of Pennsauken, said they expected to vote for Andrews.
Andrews, 50, of Haddon Heights, launched his campaign to unseat Lautenberg, 84, of Cliffside Park in Bergen County, just eight weeks ago. His last-minute decision to challenge the four-term incumbent roiled the political waters in New Jersey, turning a routine election into a vitriolic family feud.
Andrews has made an issue of Lautenberg's age, noting in television commercials that the incumbent would be nearly 91 by the end of his term. Lautenberg has criticized Andrews for cosponsoring the 2002 resolution that authorized the invasion of Iraq.
A third candidate in the race is Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello, 61.
Lautenberg started the day by visiting churches in Paterson, where he grew up poor and where he cofounded the company that made him wealthy, Automatic Data Processing Inc.
In the afternoon, his schedule called for visits to an Asian American heritage parade and festival in Teaneck, the annual reception of the Dominican American Organization of New Jersey, and the Portugal Day festival in Elizabeth.
After spending most of his brief campaign in North Jersey, where he is not well known, Andrews said he had come back to his base to encourage his core supporters to get to the polls tomorrow.
"I don't take anybody for granted. I want my neighbors to know I'm asking for their votes," Andrews said at the diner, downing a fruit cup before heading to his next stop, a block party at Gloucester County Democratic Party Headquarters in Woodbury. "I did want to spend the last 36 hours with my neighbors."
Andrews said the biggest issue on voters' minds was the economy.
"A lot of people have lost their jobs, and a lot of people are worried that they're next. People have a sense the economy is in deep trouble."
He said Democrats can contrast the robust economic years when Bill Clinton was president to the economic woes under President Bush.
Lautenberg and Andrews are trying to get as many of their supporters to the polls as possible tomorrow, because turnout is usually light in New Jersey primary elections and an effective get-out-the-vote effort could decide the outcome.
In 2000, 17 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the primary. Since then the turnout has hovered around 10 percent.
Tomorrow is New Jersey's second primary election this year, as the state held a presidential primary on Feb. 5 to try to give it more influence in the presidential selection process. That has left some voters confused and could hurt turnout.
The winner of the Democratic Senate primary will face the victor in the Republican primary, where three contenders seek the nomination: State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R., Morris); Murray Sabrin, a finance professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey; and former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer.