Republicans have not won a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey since 1972, and of the eleven candidates nominated since then, only six had previous experience as a general election candidate. And only two, Robert Franks and Richard Zimmer, had won general election contests that were even slightly competitive.
Three of the candidates had never sought public office before: David Norcross, a former New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission Executive Director who lost to Harrison Williams in 1976; former Reagan speechwriter Jeff Bell, who beat Clifford Case in the 1978 GOP primary and lost the general election to Bill Bradley; and Peter Dawkins, a retired Army General and Heisman Trophy winner who lost to Frank Lautenberg in 1988. Two other candidates won municipal races in May non-partisan elections: Douglas Forrester, who lost to Lautenberg in 2002; and Mary Mochary, the former Mayor of Montclair, who lost to Bradley in 1984.
Four other GOP candidates had won general elections in solidly Republican areas: Millicent Fenwick, who had served as a Bernardsville Councilwoman, Somerset County Assemblywoman, and Congresswoman from a Morris/Somerset district; Christine Todd Whitman, who had been a Somerset County Freeholder; Garabed “Chuck Haytaian, who had won races for Warren County Freeholder and as an Assemblyman from Warren, Sussex and Hunterdon counties; and Thomas Kean, Jr., who had won State Senate and Assembly races from a reliably Republican Union County-based district.
Zimmer, who represented a heavily Republican congressional district, makes the list because of his 1979 race for State Assembly in a Mercer/Hunterdon district: he defeated an incumbent Democrat, Barbara McConnell. Franks won a politically competitive Assembly seat in 1979, and four races in a marginally Republican congressional district.