With two of New Jersey's three open congressional seats in South Jersey, and a Camden County Democrat running an upstart campaign for U.S. Senate, voters in this region have a lot of work ahead of them today.
But first they have to go to the polls.
"I truly don't believe the general public is focusing too much," said Sharon Schulman, director of the William Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton State College. "I'm predicting a low turnout."
From the outset, Camden County Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews' race against U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg has rested, in part, on his ability to excite South Jersey voters. 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.
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.
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're running Andrews' wife, Camille Spinello Andrews, as a placeholder. If she wins today, party leaders say they will select a 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 GOP 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.
Also competing in the GOP Senate primary 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.
The Republican primary race for the Third District congressional seat pits Burlington and Ocean party machines against each other. Voters there have seen a raucous primary battle for the seat being vacated by 65-year-old U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R., N.J.), who announced his retirement in November due to health reasons.
Burlington's GOP is backing Chris Myers, the mayor of Medford and a Lockheed Martin vice president. Ocean's Republican machine is behind Freeholder Jack Kelly.
The two have exchanged 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, running with Sabrin, also is seeking the 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 (R., N.J.) and came within a single percentage point of victory.
Ferguson is retiring, opening a rare opportunity, which has 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.
New Jersey has 4.9 million registered voters, most of whom are unaffiliated but who can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary if they declare a party at the polls. There are 1.7 million Democrats and 1 million Republicans.
Few voters from either party are expected to vote today, especially since the presidential primary - which historically attracts the most attention - was held on Feb. 5.
Low turnout "makes the local party organizations that much more important in this kind of an election because their job is to make sure people don't forget," said Peter Woolley, director of the PublicMind Poll at Fairleigh Dickinson University. "They're going to call on the usual suspects."
Democrats and Republicans will head to the polls today 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.
How do I find my polling place?
Go to http://tinyurl.com/2xz7kt.
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