Big spender to run for Senate in N.J.

June 5, 2002 at 8:17 AM
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TRENTON, N.J., June 5 (UPI) -- A successful entrepreneur who spent several millions of dollars of his own money has become the Republican nominee in the effort to unseat U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J.

Doug Forrester won about 47 percent of the vote Tuesday in a race against two state senators and will go against Torricelli in November's general election. The New Jersey race was one of the key campaigns this week in which several states had primary elections, setting up contests for the Nov. 5 general election.

New Jersey is a key battleground as the Democrats and Republicans struggle for control of the Senate, where the Democrats own a 50-49 edge with one independent determining control of the body.

Torricelli, who began active campaigning this week for a second term, is one of the most formidable fundraisers and campaigners in Congress. But he was recently the target of a long federal investigation into his campaign finances. That investigation ended this year with an announcement that prosecutors had found no grounds for criminal charges.

Forrester, a state treasury official during the administration of Gov. Thomas Kean and former mayor of West Windsor, a suburb north of Trenton, entered the race almost unknown even among fellow Republicans. He began spending heavily early this year on direct mail and radio spots, eventually outspending his opponents by as much as 5 to 1. His nearest opponent was some 12 percentage points behind Forrester in Tuesday's voting.

When he claimed victory, Forrester joked about the money, telling supporters he was glad to the ballroom was crowded -- "If it had been empty, I would have wondered where all my money went." He also paid tribute to his opponents -- John Matheussen and Diane Allen -- and called for a united effort against Torricelli.

Polls show Torricelli's early lead slipping as his potential opponents became better known around the state. They indicate his support at less than 50 percent and high levels of distrust and dislike among voters.

But Torricelli has an edge in a state that has not elected a Republican to the Senate since the Nixon administration. He opened his campaign this week with a news conference with Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who gave control of the Senate to the Democrats last year when he dropped out of the Republican ranks to become an independent.

Torricelli, who had no opposition in the primary, is scheduled to make his formal announcement Wednesday. Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, state chair of the Democratic Party, described his biggest asset when she said, "He's going to have a tough fight -- but he's a tough fighter."

Forrester ran a cautious campaign, using Torricelli as an opponent more than he did Allen or Matheussen. He also invoked President Bush's name. But he did little to publicize his own views and seemed more concerned with avoiding anything that might give a handle to the Democrats.

The Republicans had another tight primary contest in the 5th Congressional District, where Marge Roukema, the dean of the New Jersey delegation, is stepping down after more than 20 years in Washington. The winner, Assemblyman Scott Garrett, is one of the most conservative members of the New Jersey Legislature.

The state's Congressional district now has seven Democrats and six Republicans, and only one district is likely to be a real contest in November, the 12th in central New Jersey, where Democrat Rush Holt is seeking a third term. Holt, a physicist whose supporters display bumper stickers "My congressman is a rocket scientist." Two years ago, Holt beat back a challenge by Dick Zimmer, winning by less than 200 votes.

In the New Mexico primary, Republican voters apparently selected freshman state Rep. John Sanchez to square off in this fall's race for governor with Democrat Bill Richardson, the former Clinton administration energy secretary.

Richardson, who is also a former New Mexico congressman, had no serious opposition in winning the Democratic nomination for governor. He has already amassed a campaign war chest of nearly $3 million, the largest in New Mexico history.

Sanchez defeated two-term Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley and two other candidates in the race for the Republican nomination for governor. Sanchez had 57 percent of the vote and Bradley 37 percent, with nearly 70 percent of the vote counted late Tuesday night.

Republican Gov. Gary Johnson is not running because of term limits.

In Alabama, Gov. Don Siegelman won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination without a runoff as he seeks a second term in office. U.S. Rep. Bob Riley, one of three Republican candidates for governor, also won his party's nomination without a runoff.

With about half of the state's precincts reporting, Siegelman had 73 percent of the Democratic vote. Riley, a three-term congressman, had about 77 percent of the Republican ballots.

After his defeat, Siegelman's main primary opponent, state Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bishop, who challenged Siegelman instead of seeking a second term, said he would "disassociate myself from the statewide Democratic party."

In South Dakota, Gov. Bill Janklow won the Republican primary for South Dakota's U.S. House seat beating former Sen. Larry Pressler by more than 2-to-1 in a field of five candidates. With more than 70 percent of the vote counted, Janklow led Pressler 56 percent to 26 percent.

Janklow will face Stephanie Herseth, who easily outdistanced three other candidates in the Democratic primary.

Freshman Sen. Tim Johnson won his Democratic primary with 88 percent of the vote. He will face Republican Rep. John Thune, who was convinced by Bush to give up his House seat for the chance to unseat Johnson in what is seen as a proxy contest between Bush and Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

In Iowa, Rep. Greg Ganske won the Republican nomination and the right to try to oust incumbent Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin in the fall. Ganske, who had Bush's support, topped conservative Bill Sailer, 60 percent to 40 percent, with 70 percent of the vote tallied.

State Sen. Steve King of Kiron won the Republican primary for Ganske's House seat in the 5th Congressional District, but the contest will go to convention delegates to be finalized because his 31 percent plurality failed to meet the 35 percent necessary for securing the nomination in the field of four candidates. He closest rivsal, state John Redwine of Sioux City and Brent Siegrist, won 24 percent of the vote. The Republican convention will meet June 29. Winning the nomination in the district is tantamount to winning the general election.

In Iowa's 1st Congressional District, Bettendorf Mayor Ann Hutchinson won the Democratic nomination over former Rep. Dave Nagle, 61 percent to 39 percent. She will face incumbent Republican Jim Nussle in November.

Doug Gross piled up a 37 percent plurality en route to securing the Republican nomination for governor and the right to face incumbent Democrat Tom Vilsack in November. Gross refused to say how much he was spending on advertising but opponents Steve Sukup and Bob Vander Plaats spent $488,000 and $150,000, respectively, on television advertising.

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