Primary will determine who takes on Jon S. Corzine in the governor's race.
New Jersey Republicans will go to the polls today to nominate a candidate to oppose the mega-wealthy Democrat, U.S. Sen. Jon S. Corzine, in this year's battle for the governor's office.
After months of campaigning, the primary has come down to a race between former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler and Douglas Forrester, a multimillionaire business executive from Mercer County.
A Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday indicated a sudden tightening of the contest, with Schundler making up a sizable deficit and drawing nearly even with Forrester in the closing days of the campaign. The five other contenders trailed far behind.
Schundler was the GOP's gubernatorial candidate in 2001, losing by 14 percentage points to Democrat Jim McGreevey. Forrester fell by 10 percentage points to Democrat Frank Lautenberg in the 2002 U.S. Senate election.
Also on today's GOP gubernatorial ballot are John Murphy, a Morris County freeholder; Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano of Bergen County; Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan; Robert Schroeder, a Bergen County businessman; and Todd Caliguire, a former Bergen County freeholder.
The Republican winner will challenge Corzine, who spent a national record of nearly $70 million of his own fortune in winning his Senate seat in 2000. Corzine has only token opposition in the Democratic primary today.
The GOP nominee will carry the banner of a party trying to reclaim the governor's office after surrendering it to McGreevey in 2001. The Republicans had controlled the office for 16 of the previous 20 years.
The Democrats also command majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
The polls across New Jersey open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Also on the ballot are contests for the Assembly and county and municipal offices. All 80 Assembly seats will be up for grabs in November.
The GOP contest began taking shape late in the fall when U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie and Assemblyman Tom Kean Jr. decided not to run. That cleared the way for Forrester to try to coalesce the party hierarchy and centrist Republicans, who were fearful that Schundler was too conservative to win a general election.
Many Republicans also viewed Forrester, who was opening his checkbook to pay for his campaign, as the candidate who could relieve them of fund-raising responsibilities and better compete financially with Corzine.
But though he will have spent nearly $10 million of his own money by the end of the primary campaign, Forrester never gained the momentum he had hoped would make him the odds-on favorite through the spring.
Schundler stayed competitive largely by keeping the bulk of his loyal conservative base intact. He also mended fences with some of the party officials who did not support him even after he won the nomination four years ago.
For months a relatively lackluster campaign that generated little interest among party regulars, the contest has picked up steam.
Forrester and Schundler have clashed over their property-tax plans and traded accusations about each other's records as mayors - Schundler in Jersey City during the 1990s and Forrester in West Windsor in the early 1980s.
Both candidates have steered away from abortion, gun control, and other hot-button social issues that proved so divisive to the party in 2001.
Forrester has enjoyed a huge financial advantage, spending more than $9 million. He has used much of the money on TV ads that have been running for weeks on the network affiliates in New York and Philadelphia.
Schundler has raised a little more than $2.2 million, spending part of it on a late surge of radio commercials in the two major markets.