TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The upcoming primaries in New Jersey's U.S. Senate special election could make next week a good time for voters who like to see thoughtful candidates focus deeply on policy.
But for people who want to see debates that matter in the outcome of elections, it's not so promising.
It's the mostly civil, issue-driven race that everyone says they want but that hardly anyone is following. Strategists and politics followers expect that perhaps 1 in 10 eligible voters — the 2.85 million registered as Republicans or Democrats — will participate in the Aug. 13 primary.
Polls have shown former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan with a large lead over Franklin Township physician Alieta Eck in the Republican race and Newark Mayor Cory Booker way ahead of three opponents on the Democratic side. Booker also is considered the front-runner in the general election.
Fairleigh Dickinson University political scientist Peter Woolley says that for the underdogs, there are only a few hopes. "They can hope their opponent makes a terrible gaffe and that goes viral," he said — or find a way to lure voters back from vacation.
"It's a shame this election is going the way it is," said Patrick Murray, a Monmouth University pollster. "This is the best field the Democrats have had in a generation."
Booker, who has national name recognition, is running against sitting U.S. Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
Murray said the crowded field is one reason Booker is likely to win easily. Many liberal groups, including labor unions that can mobilize voters, are sitting the race out. Murray said it's hard for them to choose between Holt and Pallone — and with both in the race, they feel neither has much of a chance against Booker.
The winner of the Oct. 16 general election will serve the last 15 months of the term of Frank Lautenberg, who died in June.
Among the issues the candidates have talked about are Booker's call for a plan to reduce child poverty, Holt's support for taxes on polluters and stock trades, Oliver's calls for gun control and Pallone's bill to alter the way Medicare reimburses doctors.
On the Republican side, Eck has talked about scrapping President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul and instead giving doctors incentives to treat uninsured patients for free. Lonegan has spent much of his time bashing the Democrats' ideas and calling on lower taxes and cutting the scope of the federal government.
All four Democrats are scheduled to appear at a forum Monday at Montclair State University and another Thursday at the studios of WBGO-FM in Newark.
The NAACP said it would sponsor a debate Tuesday in Newark for the Republican candidates, but a Lonegan spokesman said Saturday that the candidate had not agreed to take part. The two also faced off once last week.