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Most NJ House Incumbents Face Test Tuesday

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This Tuesday, most of New Jersey's members of Congress face a primary challenge from within their own party. Close to 50 candidates are vying for the Garden State's 13 House seats.

During a weekday rush hour on a platform at the Morristown Train Station, voters expressed anxiety about what they see as a stalled economic recovery. They also talked about a national government sorely out of touch with conditions on the ground.

Steven Zee is in the information technology field. He says he's seen a lot of layoffs and global outsourcing. "There is this worry that you continually hear about when you get older, what's social security going to be like, what's Medicare going to be like, how much is health care going to cost, will Medicare be around? Will your job be here next year or will it be sent overseas?"

As for Congress, Zee says, "If you really ask my opinion what I would do? I'd get rid of both parties. I get rid of the entire Congress and I would put in 500 people who want to make the country better instead of this partisan bickering. That's what I would do. I just don't believe that either party has any real ideas to be honest with you."

Zareen Daadachanji is an unemployed 26-year-old college graduate. She says she's paying for her own health care and is saddled with major student loan debt. "I kind of feel similar to him--just toss everybody and get some people in there that actually care about our struggles and about the common man."

Nationally, the frustration over near double-digit unemployment and the rise of the Tea Party has congressional incumbents very much on the defensive. The anti-incumbent mood just recently claimed a three-term Republican U.S. Senator Bob Bennett from Utah, and Senator Arlen Spector from Pennsylvania who served for five terms.

Sen. Bennett was defeated at the Utah Republican state party convention, and Sen. Spector, who has served for longer than any senator from Pennsylvania, was defeated in a hotly contested Democratic primary.

Professor Peter Woolley, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University, says that in New Jersey the historically low voter turnout for primaries gives challengers an opening of sorts. In the last off-year congressional cycle in 2006, only eight percent of the eligible voters from both parties bothered to turn out to pick their congressional candidate for the fall.

"Turnout in primaries is really so small," says Woolley. " If you can get a handful of angry and enthusiastic compatriots to show up at the polls, theoretically you have a chance to topple a long-standing incumbent...a kind of Tea Party ambush."

This year, he says, the two most vulnerable house incumbents are the ones most recently elected. "In New Jersey you have Leonard Lance and John Adler, both of whom just won their seats in the last round in 2008," says Woolley. "Both of them have a number of challengers. These two gentlemen have opposition in both the primary, and then they have to look forward to a probably strenuous general election.”

Both districts could be described as so-called swing districts. In the Third District, Rep. John Adler is a Democrat who voted against President Obama's health care bill, and he now faces a primary from a fellow Democrat. In the Seventh, the ferment of the Tea Party movement has helped inspire no less than three GOP challengers for Republican Congressman Leonard Lance, who is pro-choice.

Other New Jersey house members facing a primary this week include for the Democrats Rep. Bob Andrews from the First District and Rep. Albio Sires in the Thirteenth District; and for the Republicans, Rep. Frank LoBiondo from the Second District, Rep. Chris Smith from the Fourth District and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen from the Eleventh District all face primary challenges.