Democrats taking the House? First they face primary tests

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Democrats are optimistic the path to retaking the U.S. House in November will include flipping two New Jersey seats, but first voters will be heading to the polls to pick their parties' candidates for this year's U.S. Senate and House races.

Democratic and Republican voters go to the polls June 5 in the state's closed primary.

The only statewide race in this year's general election is for U.S. Senate, which features Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez and Republican former pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin. Both, though, first face primaries.

New Jersey has 12 House seats, occupied by seven Democrats and five Republicans. There are two open seats because of Republican incumbent retirements.

In three of the districts there are no contests in either party. Incumbents face primary challengers in five contests.

The races will come down to party organization and voter turnout, say experts.

"We'll have to just see who organizes their voters on a Tuesday in June,'' said Ben Dworkin, who heads the Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship at Rowan University.

A closer look at highlights in this year's primary:

SENATE Menendez, a two-term incumbent, has broad party support, but faces other questions. He was admonished by his Senate colleagues over accepting lavish gifts from his friend Salomon Melgen.

He is also under near-constant attack by Hugin over corruption charges that prosecutors dropped after a hung jury. Menendez faces liberal-leaning, failed gubernatorial candidate Lisa McCormick in the primary.

On the GOP side, Hugin has promised to finance his own campaign to the tune of tens of millions of dollars and has widespread party support. He faces Brian Goldberg, a construction company executive.

2nd DISTRICT Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo's decision to retire led to Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew jumping into the House race.

Van Drew has raised more than any of this Democratic or Republican challengers through the first quarter.

He faces former Sen. Cory Booker staffer William Cunningham, of Vineland, self-styled stop-President Donald Trump farmer named Nate Kleinman, of Elmer, and public school teacher Tanzie Youngblood, of Swedesboro.

On the GOP side, former failed gubernatorial candidate Hirsh Singh, one-time Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi and former FBI agent Robert Turkavage.

4th DISTRICT Republican Rep. Chris Smith, who's represented New Jersey in the House since 1981, doesn't face a primary and Democrats Josh Welle and Jim Keady are duking it out for the Democratic nomination.

Welle is a Navy veteran and software company founder. Keady is a tavern owner and liberal activist who gained notoriety when former Gov. Chris Christie told him to ``sit down and shut up'' in 2014 during an event about Superstorm Sandy.

5th DISTRICT Democratic incumbent Josh Gottheimer, who represents West Milford, two years ago defeated Republican incumbent Scott Garrett, who won re-election seven times in the northern New Jersey district.

This year he doesn't face a primary challenge.

On the GOP side Steve Lonegan, a former Mayor of Bogota, and attorney John McCann are squaring off.

7th DISTRICT Republican incumbent Rep. Leonard Lance faces challenges from Raafat Barsoom, of Annandale, whose campaign slogan is ``True Conservative,'' as well as Lindsay Brown, of Clark, who picked `A New Vision for New Jersey'' as her slogan.

Former Obama administration State Department official Tom Malinowski reported $740,000 cash on hand, besting his opponents Peter Jacob, a self-style reform Democrat and Goutam Jois who picked ``Democrats(hash)Resist'' for his slogan.

11th DISTRICT Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's decision to retire has set up five-way Democratic and Republican primaries.

Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former federal prosecutor and Navy pilot, is outpacing the four Democrats and five Republicans also pursuing the seat.

The other Democrats running are Mitchell Cobert, of Morristown, Tamara Harris, of West Orange, Alison Heslin, of Morristown and Mark Washburne, of Mendham.

On the Republican side Assemblyman Jay Webber raised nearly $235,000.

The other Republicans are Patrick Allocco, of Convent Station, Peter De Neufville, of Chatham, Anthony Ghee, of Totowa and Martin Hewitt, of Morristown.

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