- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

TRENTON, N.J. A mayor who had garnered little backing from the Republican establishment received an outpouring of support from the party's heaviest hitters after winning New Jersey's GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Among Bret Schundler's well-wishers was President Bush, who called to congratulate the Jersey City mayor last night following his surprise defeat of former Rep. Bob Franks. At his victory party were national party Chairman Jim Gilmore and former GOP vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp.
"They said we could never win, but you didn't believe them did you?" Mr. Schundler, a conservative who opposes abortion and supports gun ownership, said to cheering supporters he called the "Schundler Army."
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Schundler had 57 percent of the votes, or 190,008, to Mr. Franks' 43 percent, or 140,795.
Mr. Schundler's victory sets the stage for a closely watched November race against Democrat Jim McGreevey, the mayor of suburban Woodbridge who nearly defeated former Gov. Christie Whitman in 1997.
New Jersey voters have a national reputation for being ticket-splitting moderates and they will have a clear ideological choice come November.
"He's going to be painted as conservative, and they'll be right," Mr. Kemp said of Mr. Schundler. "He's conservative in his values and progressive in his ideas."
Mr. Schundler, 42, an Evangelical Christian who studied at Harvard, opposes abortion in any case. He spent nearly two years building a network of conservative groups and single-issue supporters.
Mr. Schundler wants to reform public education by offering school choice, tuition vouchers and tax credits for parents of students in private schools. He also opposes the state's $8.6 billion plan to build new schools in poor districts. On gun control, Mr. Schundler says he would support a proposal to allow people to carry concealed weapons.
Before the primary, some Republican Party figures had said that a Schundler victory could hand the governor's office to the Democrats and destroy the GOP in politically moderate New Jersey.
Mr. Franks, 49, had the backing of nearly all county Republican chairmen and sought to portray Schundler as a far-right extremist.
The same internal battle between social conservatives and centrists is being fought by Republicans in several states, including Virginia, the only other state with a governor's race this year.
Mr. McGreevey, 43, the grandson of Irish immigrants, handily beat a little-known opponent for the nomination in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 25 percent to 19 percent and the remaining 56 percent of independents are largely moderate.
He supports abortion rights, and says he wouldn't repeal any of the state's restrictions on gun ownership.
"After eight years of failed leadership that has brought us staggering debt, increased property taxes, waste and mismanagement, it is time for a new era of accountability," McGreevey said yesterday.
Preliminary results showed nearly 26 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in yesterday's primary, the highest for a governor's primary since 1981.
Mr. Franks resigned from the House to run for the Senate last year, losing to Democrat Jon Corzine, a former investment banker who spent a record-shattering total of more than $60 million.
Mr. Franks, who served in Congress for four terms, said he would likely no longer hold public office. He promised to back Mr. Schundler.
"Only by working together can we defeat Jim McGreevey in November and keep our Republican majority in the state Senate and state Assembly," Franks said.
He did not join the race until April, after acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco withdrew over critical news coverage of his business dealings. Mr. DiFrancesco became governor when Ms. Whitman left to join the Bush administration as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

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