Next up, a hard look at the national pack Several congressional races and the Feb. 5 presidential primary are on the minds of the politically inclined.

Posted: November 08, 2007

There's no rest for political junkies.

As the Statehouse race and stunning defeat of a couple of ballot questions slip into the past, the politically inclined are focused on the Feb. 5 presidential primary and a few congressional races that will keep the adrenaline pumping.

So far, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) is running ahead in polling on the Democratic side of the presidential race in New Jersey, while former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is leading the Republican pack, according to polls.

In Burlington County, where Republicans held onto their turf in county and state offices, U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R., N.J.) faces a challenge from State Sen. John Adler (D., Camden), the Harvard-educated lawyer who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Adler has persuaded the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to target the race, and he starts with $229,000 in his campaign fund. Being recognized by the committee means substantial help in raising money and finding the right political consultants.

Saxton, however, has been unbeatable since his election in 1984, winning by comfortable margins against Democratic challengers.

Still, Democrats believe the demographics of the district have changed enough that a strong, well-financed candidate could win. Voters in the Burlington and Ocean County parts of the district don't know Adler as well as they know Saxton.

In the Shore district where U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) has held office since 1994, Democrats also are looking at changing demographics. They are heartened by Tuesday's victories by former Atlantic City Mayor and Assemblyman James Whelan over State Sen. James "Sonny" McCullough, and Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew (D., Cape May) over State Sen. Nicholas Asselta (R., Cape May).

The two Democrats - Whelan and Van Drew - took their victories in many of the same communities LoBiondo represents.

Yesterday, the LoBiondo campaign didn't want to talk about it. However, LoBiondo is a rugged campaigner who has taken home 2-1 victories in recent races.

The U.S. Senate fight card pits U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) against a Republican to be named, most likely Anne Evans Estabrook, a wealthy Spring Lake developer, or Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio, a dentist who won a state Senate seat Tuesday.

Pennacchio won his first Assembly seat in the populous and solidly Republican Morris County in 2001 and is a conservative.

Estabrook is a former state Chamber of Commerce chairwoman and director of the Elizabethtown Water Co. She has ties to moderate Republicans, including former Govs. Thomas H. Kean and Christie Whitman.

Lautenberg was elected to the Senate in 1982 and retired in 2000, but he missed Washington so much that in 2002, when Gov. Corzine asked him to replace U.S. Sen. Bob Torricelli on the Democratic ticket, he ran and won easily.

Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or cburton@phillynews.com.

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