With Democratic victories forecast in New Jersey in the presidential and U.S. Senate races, party leaders hope to make gains farther down the ballot.

The state's seven Democrats in the U.S. House appear to be safe Tuesday, but polls show close races for two of the six Republican seats.

Democratic winds also are blowing through county and local races, with party officials aiming to pick up municipal seats from Mount Laurel in Burlington County to Pitman in Gloucester County.

"Being a Republican this year is just awful," said Bill Layton, the Burlington County Republican chairman.

Still, he said he was confident his candidates could break the trend - as they did in past years when Republicans lost statewide races in New Jersey but won local races.

One of the most closely watched contests is for retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton's seat in the Third Congressional District, which covers Cherry Hill and runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties. The race between Republican Chris Myers, the Medford mayor, and State Sen. John Adler (D., Camden) is considered a dead heat.

The conservative Freedom's Watch has run negative television ads about Adler, and President Bush visited to raise $65,000 for Myers. Democrats targeted the district early last year, believing the demographics had changed in their favor. National Democrats have helped Adler with political strategy, fund-raising and advertising.

In central New Jersey, Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D., Union) is running against State Sen. Leonard Lance (R., Hunterdon) in another close race for a longtime Republican seat.

Additionally, Democrats in Shore districts from Cape May to northern Ocean County are giving longtime GOP U.S. Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Christopher Smith vigorous challenges. Although analysts expect both to hold their seats, their Democratic opponents are weakening the castle walls for future battles.

At the top of the ballot, polls predict double-digit victories in the state for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama over Republican John McCain, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg over Republican Richard Zimmer.

Though well-respected in the House in the 1990s, Zimmer, 64, has been badly underfunded and unable to break through to voters, according to polls, in this race.

"Dick Zimmer is a quality candidate but doesn't have a shot because the headwinds are so bad for Republicans this year," Fairleigh Dickinson University political scientist Dan Cassino said. "While I don't think anyone's terribly enthusiastic about Frank Lautenberg, I don't think he's done anything so awful that people want to kick him out."

First elected in 1982, Lautenberg has made transportation a niche issue. He has fought to fund Amtrak, and is known for banning smoking on commercial airlines' domestic flights.

He was the only senator to be challenged in a primary this year, handily defeating U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews of Camden County.

Andrews based much of his campaign on the age of Lautenberg, who is 84.

Zimmer said his race would be about effectiveness, not age. In his only cable-television ad, he hammered on the point and backhandedly raised the age issue. He used an adolescent skateboarder to play a smug Lautenberg, who nonchalantly apologized for being ineffective and asked for six more years to make good on promises made in the 1980s.

Following a time-honored incumbent strategy aimed at keeping the challenger's profile as low as possible, Lautenberg ignored Zimmer on the trail and in his media campaign.

While in the House, Zimmer wrote the national Megan's Law, which informs residents when a sexual predator moves into their neighborhood. In the Legislature, he wrote farmland-preservation legislation credited with saving thousands of acres of open space. A social moderate, Zimmer is a tough fiscal conservative who has promised to whack earmarks from the federal budget - even pork destined for New Jersey.

Lautenberg spent much of the general election in Washington working on the energy and economic crises. When he did come home, he spent most of his time in North Jersey. He agreed to a single televised debate, and has not spent money on television advertising. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee paid for the ad that viewers in the New York and Philadelphia markets have seen.

Farther down the ballot, voters in Burlington, Gloucester and Camden Counties are being asked to elect freeholders, and Burlington is having a special election for county clerk.

Republicans in Gloucester County think they will be helped by the highly publicized ethics and corruption investigations into the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The university fired Democratic Freeholder Warren Wallace after the FBI raided his office in 2006. Wallace has not been charged criminally, but a federal monitor criticized his handling of a contract and for spending work time on freeholder business. Wallace has denied any wrongdoing, and Democrats expect him to be reelected.

Gloucester County Democrats are hoping to pick up seats in Pitman and Elk Township, while Republicans think they can pick up seats in Monroe and Franklin Townships.

In Burlington County, towns to watch Tuesday are Mount Laurel, where Democrats hope to pick up seats, and Moorestown, where Republicans hope to take back control.

With more than 500,000 newly registered voters in New Jersey this year, election officials are expecting long lines at the polls, which will open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.