New Jersey Republicans today will pick a candidate to face Democratic Gov. Corzine in the fall election.
Both major GOP candidates wrapped up their courtship of the state's one million registered Republicans last night in North Jersey, where most of those potential primary-election voters live.
Steve Lonegan, 53, of Bogota in Bergen County, has worked to be the party's nominee since last October. A longtime conservative, Lonegan ran a campaign calling for 20 percent spending cuts and a 2.9 percent flat income tax. A former mayor of Bogota, Lonegan ran for governor in 2005 and came in fourth in the GOP primary.
In January, he was joined in the race by former U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, 46, of Mendham, a one-term Morris County freeholder in the mid-1990s. Christie, who has called for tax and spending cuts, has backing from the party establishment.
The latest independent poll in the race came out yesterday and said Christie was well ahead of Lonegan, 54 percent to 30 percent. The margin of error in the Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 561 likely Republican primary voters, conducted between May 26 and 30, was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In last-minute attacks, Lonegan seized on reports that Christie fund-raiser John Inglesino was eligible for a state pension because he had a part-time job for a Republican state senator. Lonegan called it "a disgrace" that Christie would campaign on cutting pensions for part-time political appointees and have a living example of the practice in his circle.
To avoid further embarrassment to Christie, Inglesino issued a statement that he would withdraw from the state pension system. Yesterday, when a pension official said he could not give up his state pension unless he gave up his state job, Inglesino said he quit the job.
And there was a YouTube moment, when a video showed Christie telling a voter Inglesino was just a volunteer on his campaign.
Bill Stepien, Christie's campaign manager, said: "Every time Chris goes to an event, there are four or five cameras in his face from opposing campaigns trying to get him to say something or provoke him. That's the kind of gotcha politics people are tired of."
Said Inglesino: "It is unfortunate that Steve Lonegan, in the last day of campaigning, has gone to attacking volunteers as opposed to offering a positive vision he has for New Jersey."
Christie's campaign made automated telephone calls to Sussex County voters "contrasting" the two candidates.
As U.S. attorney, Christie secured convictions or guilty pleas from 130 appointed and elected officials. He has used that background to argue he would manage state government as effectively as he managed his federal office.
Christie also hammered Lonegan during the primary, saying his flat tax would raise taxes on 70 percent of New Jerseyans. Lonegan said taxes would go up for 45 percent to 50 percent of the taxpayers. After the Christie attacks, Lonegan responded that any increases in income taxes for lower-income state residents could be offset by cuts in property taxes. Those property taxes would result from Lonegan's companion plan to equalize school funding around the state.
For the first time, New Jersey will have a lieutenant governor, with candidates to be selected by the winning primary candidates within 30 days of today's election. Voters in 2005 changed the state constitution to create the lieutenant governor's position.
Voters also are slated to select candidates in Republican primaries for county offices in Camden and Gloucester Counties. There are Democratic primaries for mayor in Camden and Atlantic City.
All 80 Assembly seats are up for election this year, and most are considered safe for incumbents in the primary.
There are two special elections in districts that cover Camden County. State Sen. James Beach, a Democrat, is running against Joseph Adolf, a Republican, to finish the term of John Adler, a Democrat who was elected to Congress last year. Beach was appointed to the seat by the Democratic Party but now must defend it against a Republican.
Assemblywoman Nilsa Cruz-Perez is retiring. Camden Council President Angel Fuentes has the Democratic Party's support to replace her. Albert DiSalvio, of Bellmawr, is running against Fuentes and Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts in the Democratic primary.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.