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Gloves are off in New Jersey's hottest House race

June 5, 2000
Web posted at: 6:07 PM EDT (2207 GMT)

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (CNN) -- The gloves are off between conservative Republican Mike Pappas and the man he replaced in Congress in 1996 -- another Republican -- Richard Zimmer, who ran unsuccessfully that year for U.S. Senate.

Holt
Rep. Rush Holt  

It doesn't happen very often. Two "ex" GOP congressmen fighting each other to get their old job back. In this case, representing Princeton, New Jersey, the state's tony 12th Congressional District.

It is a job held for the last two years by Democrat Rush Holt, a former physicist.

"They seem to feel they're entitled to this seat," Holt said. "I don't think anyone is entitled to this seat. I'm working day and night to earn this seat everyday."

The race is an important one to both parties, and with Republicans battling to hold onto their narrow, 11-seat House majority, national party leaders are taking sides.

Centrists like House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) are siding with Zimmer, and conservatives such as House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas) are supporting Pappas.

"You don't have that happening unless its very important," said Ingrid Reed, a political analyst at Rutgers University.

Pappas
Former Rep. Mike Pappas  

Important also because the 12th District is historically Republican. But two years ago, Democrat Holt narrowly defeated Pappas.

The reason, many say, is the widely broadcast footage of Pappas singing Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's praises on the House floor, -- literally and to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" -- during President Bill Clinton's impeachment hearings.

"Mike concedes that it is the worst mistake of his career," Zimmer said.

With the primary coming up Tuesday, the negative push is on. Pappas has been accused in a radio ad of having ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

"Mike Pappas works for a Group called the Pillar of Fire, founded by a zealous Ku Klux Klan supporter," the ad alleges.

Pappas has responded with outrage, saying: "There's no basis to suggest that I have any sympathies or condone in any way the bigoted positions of the KKK."

Zimmer
Former Rep. Dick Zimmer  

The ad, Pappas says, is from a group linked to the Zimmer campaign -- a charge Zimmer denies.

"There is a link and this very well could be the subject of further investigation," Pappas said.

Zimmer gave up the seat he now wants back, when he ran for Senate four years ago. He lost against Democrat Robert Torricelli in a campaign considered one of the dirtiest in history.

The Democrats are hoping this primary will scar both Republicans, hurting any chance of a GOP victory in a November campaign that promises to be a real battlefield.

 
ELECTION 2000


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Monday, June 5, 2000


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