Primary Season's Last Gasp

Three months after Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush clinched their parties' presidential nominations, the primary season quietly comes to an end Tuesday, with elections in five states - Alabama, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.

New Jersey's Senate race has drawn the most attention, with wealthy financier Jon Corzine battling former Gov. Jim Florio, whose $2.8 billion tax increase cost him his office in 1993 after one term.

A former Goldman Sachs chief executive, Corzine has an estimated worth of $400 million. Few knew his name when he announced he would seek the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

In March, one poll gave Florio a 2-to-1 advantage. Two months and $33 million later, polls showed Corzine ahead by 26 percentage points.

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Corzine's spending smashed the previous U.S. record for an entire Senate race the $30 million spent by Republican Michael Huffington during his losing 1994 bid for office in California.

Less notice went to the four New Jersey Republicans who sought the Senate nomination after Republican Gov. Christie Whitman said she would not run: Rep. Bob Franks, state Sen. William Gormley, Essex County Executive Jim Treffinger and Ramapo College professor Murray Sabrin.

There were also important House races in New Jersey whose results could shape the control of Congress.

Back trying to win his old seat was former GOP Rep. Mike Pappas, who lost two years ago in part because of a ditty he sang about on the House floor ("Twinkle, Twinkle, Kenneth Starr''). He faced another former congressman, Dick Zimmer, in hopes of winning the nomination to unseat first-term Democratic Rep. Rush Holt.

GOP Rep. Marge Roukema, the longest-serving woman in Congress, faced a primary challenge from state Assemblyman Scott Garrett, who came within 1,700 votes of beating her two years ago. A conservative group spent about $100,000 on radio and TV ads describing Roukema as "too taxing'' and too liberal." Another group aired ads defending Roukema, in office since 1981.

In Alabama, Circuit Judge Roy Moore, who fought the American Civil Liberties Union in 1995 to post the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, bucked the state's Republican leadership in his bid for a state Supreme Court seat. He is trying to replace a justice barred from another term because he is past 70.

Moore, far ahead in a poll last month, was in a statistical dead heat with his nearest opponent for the Republican nomination, according to a poll last week. If no candidate gets a majority in he four-way race, a runoff will be held June 27.

In Montana's Senate race, farmer Brian Schweitzer made the high price of prescription medicine the theme of his campaign and is expected to easily claim the Democratic nomination. He would face two-term GOP Sen. Conrad Burns in the fall.

With Montana's term limits forcing the retirement of Republican Gov. Mark Racicot, five candidates were seeking their parties' nominations.

Democrat Mark O'Keefe, the state auditor, was criticized by his competitors for putting $200,000 of his own money into the race. He faced Secretary of State Mike Cooney and Attorney General Joe Mazurek.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Judy Martz faced University of Montana law professor Rob Natelson.