Primary Preparation: Who to watch, why you should vote in today’s contests

Will NJ give Clinton the delegates she needs to clinch the nomination — hours before the California polls close?

Today is primary election day, with federal contests topping the ticket. Once again, however, these contests are unlikely to be particularly close, so many primary voters might just choose to stay home.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the presidential primaries lead the tickets. But neither major party’s race is expected to be close. Republican Donald Trump has already clinched his party’s nomination. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who needs just 23 delegates to win the Democratic nod, is leading Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by more than 20 percent in an average of the two most recent polls, according to Real Clear Politics.

Similarly, while there are contested primaries in nine of the state’s 12 congressional districts, none is expected to end in an upset.

Still, there are reasons to vote, beyond duty and citizenship.

Clinton’s supporters want her to win big and win early to secure the nomination in one of the East Coast states.

“Clinton wants to be able to declare victory and become the presumptive nominee before the results of California are known, which are considered too close to call as of this writing,” said Daniel Douglas, director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, noting the three-hour time difference between the states. Clinton’s slim lead is within the margin of error in recent polls in California.

Sanders’ grassroots New Jersey effort was working hard to the end, blanketing homes with pro-Bernie literature even in traditionally red neighborhoods, as well as robocalling throughout the state.

Two New Jersey primaries are also drawing some attention, although the challengers there are not expected to win.

In the 1st District, which includes Camden, freshman Rep. Donald Norcross faces a challenge from Alex Law in the Democratic primary. Law, an IBM strategy consultant, is running an aggressive campaign against what he is calling the “Norcross Machine” and hoping to get the vote of other Sanders supporters. Norcross, brother of South Jersey power broker George Norcross, has outspent Law 20-to-1.

“Norcross is very likely to win. But his margin of victory matters,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor at Montclair State University and president of the New Jersey Political Science Association. She said rumor has it that should U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who is under indictment on federal corruption charges, resign, “horsetrading” could put Donald Norcross in line to be nominated for that Senate seat in exchange for a North Jersey gubernatorial nominee and the 1st District House seat going to state Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester). “Of course, all of this is speculation because, in order for the dominoes to fall, Sen. Menendez would have to topple the first one. But the thinking is that if this were to happen, Norcross needs to demonstrate that he’s a strong candidate that can handle a statewide race.”

The other race to watch is in the 7th District in Central Jersey, where Republican Rep. Leonard Lance faces his fourth challenge from businessman David Larsen, as well as Craig Heard, another businessman. While Lance has moved further to the right since entering Congress in 2009, both challengers painted him as being too liberal. And while Larsen has gotten closer to unseating Lance — he came within 10 percentage points two years ago — the addition of Heard is likely to divide those opposed to Lance and give him a relatively easy win.

“Lance in 7 may be slightly interesting, but I don’t expect any major upsets,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, is also keeping an eye on the 3rd District in South Jersey, where two Democratic novices are battling for the party’s nomination. Jim Keady, who Gov. Chris Christie told to “sit down and shut up” when he protested the state’s handling of superstorm Sandy recovery funds two years ago, is facing Frederick John LaVergne, a loan officer who has run unsuccessfully for the House seat as an independent. Between them, the Democrats have spent less than $50,000 on the race.

But who wins will matter in November, because the 3rd District has been a swing district and its Rep. Tom MacArthur is only a freshman running in a presidential year that could favor Democratic candidates in this traditionally blue state.

“Depending on the strength of the top of the Democratic ticket, District 3 can become more competitive than usual in presidential years,” Dworkin said. “But that certainly requires a unified party apparatus.”

The other slots up for grabs are:

In the southernmost 2nd District, Democrats David Cole and Costantino Rozzo are vying for the right to challenge long-term Rep. Frank LoBiondo in the fall;

In the 4th District, stretching from the Jersey Shore to the Delaware, Rep. Chris Smith faces fellow Republican Bruce MacDonald;

In the northernmost 5th, Rep. Scott Garrett has two GOP challengers — Michael Cino and Peter Vallorosi;

In the 8th District in and around Hudson County, Democratic Rep. Albio Sires faces off against Eloy Delgado;

The 11th District in North Jersey features both red and blue contests, with Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen facing Republican challenger Rick Van Glahn, and three Democrats — Lee Anne Brogowski, Richard McFarlane, and Joseph Wenzel — vying for the right to go up against the winner in November;

In the 12th District, centered in Trenton, freshman Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman faces a challenge from Alexander Kucsma.

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