TRENTON -- Democrat U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg on Tuesday won the right to stand for re-election in November and will face former Rep. Richard A. Zimmer, who won a more narrow victory in the Republican primary.

Lautenberg had a comfortable lead over Rep. Robert E. Andrews, his chief rival, when Andrews conceded shortly after 10 p.m.

The greatest mirror of your character and who you are is to look out and see who's willing to stand with you and take up your cause," Andrews said. "And by that measure we have won the greatest victory of all because we have all of you."

With one-third of precincts left to count, Zimmer held a narrower lead of less than 8 percentage points over state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio. But the Associated Press declared Zimmer as the winner.

On the Democratic side, with 72 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Lautenberg had 65 percent, Andrews had 30 percent and Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello 6 percent.

Lautenberg's supporters, in Newark, were expecting an easy night as oldies such as "Old Time Rock'N'Roll" and "Surfin' USA" blasted through speakers.

It's kind of like a Big Brown race," Senate President Richard J. Codey said, referring to the racehorse who has won the first two legs of racing's Triple Crown by wide margins.

t Andrews' headquarters, most campaign officials remained out of sight, but supporters hung onto hope.
"I respect what Lautenberg did in the past, but it's time for a change," said Jeanne Ottoson, 49, of Haddon Heights.
In Cumberland County, Andrews had slightly more support than Lautenberg. Zimmer had widespread support in the county.

Zimmer, a Hunterdon County resident now working in Washington as a lobbyist, hoped to take the first step back toward an elected office, and had 46 percent of the vote, with 73 percent of precincts counted. Pennacchio, R-Morris, had 40 percent, and Ramapo College economics professor Murray Sabrin had 14 percent.

Zimmer's supporters gathered in a small room at a Plainsboro hotel challenging Lautenberg long before results were known.

"(Lautenberg) has to debate, and if I were him I would stand up there and challenge Dick Zimmer to a debate right now. End of issue," said state Sen. Bill Baroni Jr., R-Mercer, referring to the incumbent's reluctance to face Andrews.

"There will be a clear contrast between the Republican candidates' George W. Bush agenda and Senator Lautenberg's progressive agenda," U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, said.

In Tuesday's congressional races, state Sen. Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon, beat Kate Whitman, the former governor's daughter, and five others. In the 3rd District, Medford Mayor Chris Myers beat Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly.

For the Democrats, Dennis Shulman, a rabbi who is legally blind, won the 5th District nomination against civil rights lawyer Camille Abate for the opportunity to challenge Rep. Scott Garrett. Also, in the 1st District, Andrews' wife won as a placeholder candidate. Andrews has vowed he will not seek his old seat.

Pennacchio said he felt he resonated with voters. "In themselves, they see 'Jersey Joe.' I'm a regular guy," Pennacchio said. "I'm living in Norman Rockwell moment right now."

Running against two well-known and well-financed Democratic members of Congress, Cresitello tried to focus on issues.

"I'm proud of the race I ran and felt I raised important issues that the next senator will have to face," said Cresitello, who declined to say whether his campaign, which took jabs at Gov. Jon S. Corzine, was a prelude to a 2009 challenge.

Most of the attention had been on Andrews, who launched a last-minute challenge of Lautenberg and focused on the fact that the incumbent will be 90 years old at the end of the six-year term.

"Sen. Lautenberg is too old," said Jeanne Robinson, 79, of Evesham, who thinks 75 should be the age limit for senators. That would disqualify 10 of the 100 senators now in Washington.

Lautenberg, dismissed questions of age and tried to depict Andrews as a Republican, citing his vote for, and appearance at, President Bush's bill-signing to authorize the Iraq war.

Some voters rejected Andrews' age attack on Lautenberg.
Andrews "looked like a snake in the grass," said Dawn Marina, 44, of Freehold. "He reminded me of a Republican."