New Jersey Democrats haven’t had a real statewide primary in eight years – the last time was in 2000, when newcomer Jon Corzine beat former Governor Jim Florio’s South Jersey-based coalition in the U.S. Senate primary by a 58%-42% margin.
In the eleven primaries since Democrats last lost a U.S. Senate race in 1972, eight of them have been virtually uncontested. In 1978, basketball star Bill Bradley beat the establishment choice, State Treasurer Richard Leone, by a 59%-26% margin, with ex-State Sen. Alexander Menza receiving 9%. And in 1982, newcomer Frank Lautenberg won a ten candidate primary with 26% of the vote against former Reps. Andrew Maguire (23%) and Joseph LeFante (20%), and Princeton Mayor Barbara Boggs Sigmund (11%). Six other candidates – businessman Howard Rosen, former state Banking Commissioner Angelo Bianchi, Passaic County Freeholder Cyril Yannarelli, labor leader Frank Forst, Richard McAleer, and Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello combined for the remaining votes. Cresitello, who is running again this year, finished last with 4,295 votes statewide.
On the Democratic side, the last real primary challenge to an incumbent Senator was in 1970, when two-term incumbent Harrison Williams beat former State Sen. Frank Guarini of Jersey City by a 66%-34% margin. Williams went to prison in the Abscam scandal after resigning from the Senate in 1982; Guarini was elected to the House in 1978 and served until his retirement in 1992.
Lautenberg has faced primary challenges before: he beat perennial candidate Bill Campbell 81%-14% in 1994, and former Hudson County Freeholder Elnardo Webster (the father of current mega attorney Elnardo Webster) by a 80%-11% margin in 1988.