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Congressman Rush Holt's Retirement Sparks Fierce Primary in New Jersey

by Debbie Sharnak, published
Year after year, his campaign slogan read, “my Congressman IS a rocket scientist.” A nuclear physicist and former college professor, Rush Holt, the eight-term congressman from New Jersey’s 12

th District, was perhaps best known as the legislator who won Jeopardy five times and beat the computer, Watson.

In the House, he used his expertise to champion funding of science research and education. And while his intellect cannot be challenged, it appears there will be an all new set of challengers for his congressional seat. Last week, in an email to supporters and in a public statement, Holt announced that he would not seek re-election in 2014.

Just last year, Holt appeared ready for a step forward in his political career. He ran in the primary for the Senate seat in New Jersey, which was vacated when Frank Lautenberg passed away. However, he lost the race in a distant third to Cory Booker, the eventual winner.

Now, Holt has decided to leave the House, not ready yet to talk about his next steps, and already there appears to be a host of contenders for his seat.

Shortly after the public announcement of his decision, Democratic State Senator Linda Greenstein said she would run for the position. If elected, she would be the only female in New Jersey’s current congressional delegation.

Yet, she is not the only female, or candidate, who will be vying for the open seat.

Assemblymen Reed Gusciora and Upendra Chivukula both announced they were interested in the seat. Gusciora has been in the New Jersey state Legislature since 1996 while Chivukula recently entered the ranks of public service after 35 years as an engineer.

Meanwhile, Brian Hughes, Mercer County executive, as well as State Senator Shirley Turner also indicated an interest the position. Already, the Democratic primary looks like it will be a fierce battle.

On the Republican side, a physician, Alieta Eck, filed papers to launch a challenge for the seat. She also ran in the 2013 special election for the U.S. Senate, but lost the primary to Steve Lonegan.

Despite all the challengers, it appears the toughest battle will be in the Democratic primary. NJ-12 voted heavily Democratic in 2012, with Obama winning by 34 percentage points. However, New Jersey utilizes a closed primary system, which means only registered Democrats will be able to partake in the important primary challenge on June 3.



Holt ardently claimed that his decision not to run for re-election was due to “a variety of reasons, personal and professional, all of them positive and optimistic,” and not because of his frustrations with a deadlocked Congress. In fact, Holt proclaimed in an interview with the New York Times that “Congress, even with its frustrations, is the greatest instrument for justice and human welfare in the world.”

The fight to represent New Jersey with this same confidence in the institution, however, is just beginning.

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