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Zimmer Wins NJ GOP Senate Race; Runoffs Set in Alabama

June 5, 1996

Rep. Dick Zimmer easily won the Republican nomination for Senate in New Jersey on Tuesday, setting up a long-awaited confrontation with fellow House member Robert Torricelli for the seat of retiring Sen. Bill Bradley.

Zimmer, who had his party’s blessing and a huge fund-raising edge, easily beat two rivals in the GOP primary. Torricelli was unopposed among Democrats.

In Alabama, the retirement of another Democratic senator, Howell Heflin, prompted wide-open primaries that will require June 25 runoffs since no candidate gained a majority.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions _ whose nomination to a federal judgeship Heflin had scuttled 10 years ago _ led a field of seven Republicans. His closest rival was businessman and former legislator Sid McDonald. Sessions had 62,095 votes, or 40 percent, and McDonald had 30,303 votes, or 20 percent, with 72 percent of precincts reporting.

In 1986, Heflin cast the deciding vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee against Sessions, who had been accused of trying to intimidate black voters by unsuccessfully prosecuting three civil rights workers for vote fraud the year before. Sessions, who is white, vehemently denied the charges.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Roger Bedford topped a four-way race with 104,719 votes, or 44 percent. Rep. Glen Browder was second with 69,615 votes, or 29 percent.

Four other states _ Iowa, New Mexico, South Dakota and Montana _ had incumbent senators unchallenged for renomination.

In New Jersey, with 80 percent of precincts reporting, Zimmer had 115,758 votes, or 68 percent. Passaic County Freeholder Richard DuHaime and state Sen. Richard LaRossa split the remainder.

Zimmer and Torricelli have spent the past several months sniping at one another in what promises to be one of the nastiest and most expensive Senate contests in the country. By mid-May, Torricelli had raised $4.1 million and Zimmer $2.3 million.

Zimmer has attempted to portray Torricelli as a left-wing taxer and soft on crime, while Torricelli has called Zimmer a clone of House Leader Newt Gingrich. That continued on primary night.

In a statement released just as the polls closed, Torricelli came out swinging, criticizing Zimmer’s record on the environment, Medicare, and higher education.

``My opponent has embraced the agenda of the Gingrich Congress, which endangers everything dear to this country. It is a mean-spirited, unremorseful enterprise...″ Torricelli said.

Zimmer told supporters at a post-primary rally that Republican voters ``sent a message that they want a better way.″

``They want lower taxes, less spending, less government, less regulation, less government in our lives and more personal responsibility,″ he said.

New Jersey has not elected a Republican U.S. Senator since 1972, but has swung from party to party in other statewide elections.

Bradley and Heflin are two of 14 Senators _ eight Democrats, six Republicans _ calling it quits this year, including GOP presidential challenger Bob Dole.

Republicans see the fall election as a chance to solidify their 53-47 Senate majority, while Democrats view November as a shot at reversing those numbers.

In Montana, Democratic Sen. Max Baucus had no primary opponent in seeking a fourth term. Lt. Gov. Dennis Rehberg won the GOP nomination.

Montana also had the only governor’s race on Tuesday’s ballot. Popular GOP incumbent Marc Racicot and his leading Democratic challenger, former state Sen. Chet Blaylock, won their primaries.

In Iowa, six-term Rep. Jim Ross Lightfoot beat two rivals for the Republican nomination to face two-term Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

New Mexico Democrats picked Bernalillo County chairman Art Trujillo to challenge Republican Sen. Pete Domenici. The Green Party also held a primary _ its first ever in the state. It was designated a major political party because its gubernatorial candidate earned more than 5 percent of the vote in 1994.

In South Dakota, Republican Sen. Larry Pressler faced no primary opposition. His Democratic challenger is Rep. Tim Johnson, who is giving up the state’s only House seat.

Johnson’s successor in Congress will be either former state GOP chief John Thune, who won his party’s primary, or Rick Weiland, former aide to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who won the Democratic contest.

In two other high-profile House races, former state Sen. Bill Yellowtail won the Democratic nomination to succeed Democrat Pat Williams, who is giving up Montana’s only House seat.

Yellowtail won despite recently admitting to burglarizing a store in college, hitting his ex-wife 20 years ago and falling $7,213 behind in child support payments in the 1980s.

In the GOP primary, businessman and former state party chairman Rick Hill led in early returns.

In Iowa, Connie McBurney, making her first run for public office after 24 years as a Des Moines television weather forecaster, defeated former state Rep. Jack Hatch for the Democratic nomination. The winner takes on freshman Republican Rep. Greg Ganske.

North Carolina held two congressional runoffs. In the 7th District, attorney Mike McIntyre won the Democratic nomination for the seat being vacated by Rep. Charlie Rose. New Hanover County commissioner Bill Caster won the Republican runoff.

In the 8th District, newcomer Curtis Blackwood defeated car dealer Sherrill Morgan to win the Republican nomination to face Democratic Rep. Bill Hefner.