TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two of New Jersey’s most influential Democrats — including one of Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s harshest critics — survived hard-fought primary election challenges Tuesday.
Sen. Ray Lesniak and Assemblyman Joe Cryan fended off challenges from a slate of candidates backed by a rival political faction in Elizabeth. The pair’s running mate, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, also won.
The Democratic lawmakers have accused their challengers of embracing Republican ideals.
“There won’t be any words of conciliation,” Lesniak said after Tuesday’s results were final. “This was Chris Christie’s ace in the hole. He thought he could pick off a Democrat by having a Republican run as a Democrat.”
All 18 incumbents in the Legislature who faced primary challenges won their races. All 120 seats in the Senate and Assembly are up in November.
Lesniak, whose 34-year legislative career was on the line, got 54 percent of the vote; his opponent, Elizabeth school administrator Jerome Dunn, had 46 percent.
Cryan and Quijano each received 28 percent of the vote. Their opponents got 22 percent each.
“This election tonight was about Democratic values and standing up for working people,” said Cryan. “We’re going to stand with you each and every day. We’re going to keep fighting Chris Christie.”
Cryan has been a constant thorn in Christie’s side, first as head of the Democratic State Committee during the gubernatorial campaign, and now as Assembly majority leader.
The incumbents raised $2.5 million for the race. The challengers’ campaign cash was temporarily frozen by a judge after questions arose over how donations were raised and recorded. The largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, abandoned the pro-labor Lesniak to endorse Dunn. Lesniak supports school vouchers and the union does not.
The heavily Democratic 20th District virtually reassures re-election for winners of the party primary. The district is 38 percent Hispanic and 43 percent black.
Republican Sen. Anthony Bucco also survived his primary challenge against Morris County Freeholder William Chegwidden in Morris and Somerset counties.
Additionally, a tea party-backed candidate upset an establishment Republican in a northern New Jersey’s 27th District Senate primary.
Morris Patriots tea party founder William Eames narrowly defeated Essex Fells Councilman William Sullivan in the 27th District on Tuesday. He’ll face longtime Democratic state Sen. Richard Codey in the November general election. Codey is a former state Senate president who served as governor for a year.
It was otherwise a rough night for tea party-backed candidates who took on candidates with county party organization backing across New Jersey.
Elsewhere, two of New Jersey’s best-known candidates easily captured their parties’ nominations with no opposition.
Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis won an uncontested primary for the Democratic nomination for a seat in the state Senate.
Lewis, 49, still has legal hurdles before his name can appear on the general election ballot in November against Republican Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego. Republicans have challenged the former track and field star’s candidacy, saying Lewis doesn’t meet New Jersey’s four-year residency rule.
Republican Richard Kanka, an advocate for tougher sex offender residency laws after his 7-year-old daughter Megan was murdered in 1994, was uncontested in the GOP Senate primary in Mercer and Middlesex counties.
Redistricting done earlier this year based on the most recent U.S. Census means several incumbents found themselves in districts with different configurations. However, most intraparty fights are worked out in private meetings rather than primaries, according to political scientist Patrick Murray.
The new voting map favors Democrats, being able to keep their majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Democrats control the Senate 24-16 and the Assembly 47-33.
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