Politics in New Jersey this year are not politics as usual. Seven candidates, including a mayor, a dentist and a former Wilson School professor, are vying to unseat incumbent Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
Lautenberg, who is completing his fourth term in the Senate, faces two Democratic challengers, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) and Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello, in the upcoming June 3 primary.
Cresitello ran unsuccessfully against Lautenberg in 1982.
Though New Jersey has not sent a Republican to the Senate since 1982, three GOP candidates are optimistic about their chances to take Lautenberg’s seat. Former congressman and University professor Dick Zimmer (R-N.J.), New Jersey State Senator and practicing dentist Joseph Pennacchio, and Ramapo College finance professor Murray Sabrin have officially announced their candidacies.
Challengers from both parties cited the need for a new perspective.“The country needs the energy to make a big change,” Andrews explained. “Many, many people called me and urged me to do this, and in my heart I feel this is the right thing to do for the country,” he said.
“I think [Washington is] badly broken,” Andrews added. “I think it’s full of self-indulgent people. If we continue to go around with tireful politics, I’m fearful for the future of the country. If we give new people a chance, I think the country has a bright future.”
Voters are “really looking for a change,” Cresitello said, adding that polling shows that 70 percent of New Jersey residents are concerned about Lautenberg’s age. Lautenberg is 84.
Cresitello said that his position is unique because both Lautenberg and Andrews initially supported the war in Iraq.
“I would absolutely oppose the Iraq war,” Cresitello explained. “I said there were no [weapons of mass destruction].”
Pennacchio said that Lautenberg is “silent” on homeland security issues and called Lautenberg’s use of homeland security funding “abhorrent.”
Lautenberg said that he will “succeed in November against the Republican contender” because he has the state’s best interests in mind. “Candidates for public office need to be honest, hard-working public servants,” he said in an e-mail to The Daily Princetonian.
Lautenberg emphasized his priorities, including efforts to “bring our troops home from Iraq, grow our economy, make higher education more affordable and strengthen Medicare and Social Security.”
Both Andrews and Cresitello said that communication with voters is a big concern. They also noted that Lautenberg has not accepted their invitations to public debates.
“I’ve challenged the Senator to at least seven debates around the state,” Andrews said. “He has not accepted. I believe he has an obligation to the people to debate.”
Andrews, a congressman representing New Jersey’s first district, has declared that he would not run for re-election to his district. Instead, his wife, Camille Andrews, has declared herself a candidate for his seat.
Lautenberg’s other challengers include Sara Lobman of the Socialist Workers Party and Anthony Fisher, an independent.
Courting young voters
Candidates diverged on the focus they place on young voters.
Lautenberg said his campaign has set up an outreach program aimed at incorporating younger people into his campaign.
Andrews said he feels that it is important to engage with young voters directly.
Pennacchio, however, noted that “young voters are no different than older voters,” adding that “the issues sometimes transcend age.”
Cresitello explained that he wants to challenge young voters’ perceptions about government and that, though he has been involved with government for more than 30 years, he does not want to be seen as an “average politician.”
“We want the support of young people because I started in politics when I was 8 years old,” Cresitello said. “It’s very important to consider government an honorable job, not a bunch of corrupt people looking to earn a buck.”
Sabrin said his experience in the classroom as a finance professor allows him to understand both students and the economy.
“Your generation is going to be footing the bills for all of these programs,” Sabrin said. “Half of your lifetime will be devoted to paying for promises ... The future is not promising because of all of these entitlement programs.”He criticized Lautenberg for failing to addressing major citizen concerns, such as “the budget, the deficit [and] debt.”
“It really hurts the people of New Jersey,” he explained. “He has been totally silent on issues that affect the pocketbooks of New Jersey residents.”Princetonian viewpoints
Lily Miao '09, who is from Green Brook, N.J., said the way to court young voters is by addressing the environment and education.
Carlos Hanco '09 has not decided who to vote for in the primary but said he believes his parents will vote for Lautenberg.Lautenberg has served New Jersey “excellently,” Hanco said, adding that education and Iraq are two issues that are important for a senator to tackle.
Hanco also said that access to higher education is a big concern. “College is not always affordable to all,” he said in an e-mail, citing Higher Education Tax Credit and Pell Grants as initiatives that could use more improvement.
Miao, who is not registered with a political party, said that, though she considers candidates’ platforms important, she also would give some weight to the fact that Zimmer taught at Princeton.“There’s definitely more respect there,” she said.