Downballot Derby: Sen. Lautenberg Draws Primary Opponent

With all the attention being paid to the presidential race, it's easy to forget that the House and Senate are also up for grabs in November. But since there are 435 House seats and a third of the Senate on the ballot, it can be hard to keep track. So we'll be helping you do just that from time to time with a look at all the key developments in those campaigns across the country.

Last week we told you about the latest happenings in the Republican Senate primary campaign in New Jersey. This week things heated up on the Democratic side. On Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews announced he will challenge incumbent Sen. Frank Lautenberg in the June 3rd primary.

"After consulting with family, friends, supporters and people from all points of view, I have decided that I will place my name and my credentials before the people of New Jersey to serve as their new United States senator," Andrews said. "The people of New Jersey deserve to choose their senator."

Andrews has represented South Jersey's 1st Congressional District since 1990. Party leaders tried to dissuade him from challenging Lautenberg for the sake of party unity.

On Monday, Lautenberg announced he would run for another term and was flanked by scores of local, county and state Democratic leaders. Andrews was conspicuously absent from the gathering.

Age is likely to be a key factor in the race. Lautenberg, who served three terms in the 80s and 90s before retiring in 2000 only to run again in 2002, is 84-years-old now and would be 90 when the next term expires (he is the third oldest member of the Senate). Andrews is 50.

"I am David and he is Goliath, but I think the country is ready for some Davids," Andrews told the Newark Star-Ledger.

Mississippi Run-Offs: On Tuesday, Mississippi voters braved the rain to vote in primary run-offs to pick candidates for two open seats. In the first Congressional District in northern Mississippi, Republican Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, and Democrat Travis Childers, the Prentiss County chancery clerk, will battle to replace Republican Roger Wicker.

But before they face off in the fall, they will be competing in a special election on April 22 to take over the seat now. Wicker was appointed to replace former Sen. Trent Lott when he resigned earlier this year.

Although the seat is currently in Republican hands, Childers vows to make it competitive. The seat was formerly held for half a century by Democrat Jamie Whitten, who was chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. "I'm a Jamie Whitten Democrat," Childers said after his primary win. However, Congressional Quarterly rates the race as "Safe Republican."

In the 3rd Congressional District race, Gregg Harper, a former county GOP chairman, won the Republican primary on Tuesday. In the general election, he'll be favored against Democrat Joel Gill, a cattle buyer and seller and an alderman in a tiny Delta town. The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Chip Pickering, who decided not to run for re-election.

Coming Up: In the next week, voters in Louisiana, Texas and California will go to the polls. On Saturday, Republican voters in Louisiana's first district and both parties in the state's 6th district will pick candidates for May 3 special elections. In California, there will be primaries in the 12th district on Tuesday to pick candidates for a June 3 special election to replace the late Rep. Tom Lantos. Also on Tuesday, there will be primary runoffs in two districts in Texas: one near Houston among two Republicans for the chance to take on Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson (in Tom DeLay's former seat), and another in the Dallas area between two Democrats to take on Republican Rep. Pete Sessions.