The biggest upset in a congressional primary over the last decade came in the seventh district in 2000. The seat, considered one of the most competitive in the nation and was viewed as crucial to the Democrats bid to regain a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, opened up when four-term Republican Bob Franks left to run for the United States Senate.
Former Fanwood Mayor Maryanne Connelly challenged Franks in 1998 and lost 53%-44%. It was widely expected that Connelly get a second shot at Franks, and she had not stopped campaigning since her loss. But Union County Democrats declined to back her second House bid and instead endorsed Michael Lapolla, the county manager and a former Freeholder and First Assistant Prosecutor. Lapolla won early support from U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, and Democrat County Chair Charlotte DeFilippo. Connelly refused to back down and took on the party establishment, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which was backing Lapolla.
The race got some national attention when Lapolla ran a radio ad, “Who wants to be a Member of Congress?” where a female voice representing Connelly was portrayed as intellectually inferior. Connelly accused Lapolla of being sexist.
Connelly defeated Lapolla by just 127 votes, 14,152 to 14,125, with 2,627 votes for former Warren Township Committeeman Jeff Golkin and 520 votes for Westfield attorney Joel Farley. Lapolla carried the Union and Middlesex portions of the district, but Connelly was fueled by a 51%-11% win in Somerset. In the general election, Connelly lost to Republican Michael Ferguson