- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The opportunity to run for Congress doesn’t come around often, so when Rep. Rush Holt surprised New Jersey’s 12th District by announcing he would not seek re-election after 15 years, four fellow Democrats jumped at the chance.

The winner of the June 3 Democratic primary will almost certainly be the next congressional representative in the reliably Democratic district that stretches from Trenton to Plainfield and includes portions of Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties. Physician Alieta Eck is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

The Democratic field consists of three veteran state legislators, each with the support of his or her home county, and a scientist whose career path mimics Holt‘s. Holt, one of a few scientists serving in Congress, has stayed neutral in the race.

A Monmouth University poll released last week showed a tight race between Sen. Linda Greenstein of Middlesex County and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman of Mercer County, with Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula of Somerset County in third and Princeton University scientist Andrew Zwicker trailing. About one-third of voters were undecided. Union County could be the lynchpin in the race.

While running for state Assembly, Greenstein participated in an experimental “clean elections” campaign in which candidates had to raise $10 donations from 800 people in order to qualify for public funding. She remains a proponent of public financing for elections, which she says would limit the influence of big money and party bosses. A former lawyer, Greenstein is sensitive to what she calls the “hyper-partisanism” pervading Washington, and says her independent voice would aid in the fight for living wages, pay equity and more food and chemical safety protections for consumers.

Watson Coleman would be the first African-American woman in New Jersey’s delegation, continuing a tradition of firsts begun by her father, the late John S. Watson, who was the first African-American in the country to chair a state legislative budget committee. Watson-Coleman says an elevation to Congress is an opportunity to continue the family tradition of public service.

A state legislator for 16 years, she cares about ensuring voting rights and bail reform and says one need not be a scientist to understand the importance of funding research for alternate fuels and technologies to reverse the impact of climate change.

Chivukula is an electrical engineer who grew up in India and was drawn into local politics by organizing support for hate crimes legislation after a gang attacked members of the Asian-American community. Initially discouraged from running because of his uncommon last name (pronounced shih-vuh-KOOL’-uh), the would-be candidate told his critic to remember it this way: “Drive a Chevy, drink a cola.”

Chivukula believes it’s important to send someone to Washington who understands science and technology and can make informed decisions about clean energy, technology jobs and research funding. He wants young immigrants to have the same opportunities to achieve their dreams as he had, and says the government must give people who have known no country other than the U.S. a path to citizenship.

Zwicker, who is making his first bid for public office, says the Democratic Party has ignored him since he entered the race to succeed Holt, a mentor and fellow scientist. His grass-roots campaign is aided by technology and volunteer Princeton students.

In a career that has paralleled Holt‘s, Zwicker runs the science education program that Holt began at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. He called Holt an example of “what happens when someone uses evidence and facts to influence policy,” and says Washington would benefit from having more critical thinkers in office. He would like to change the fact that no scientists sit on the House science, space and technology committee, where funding decisions are made on cancer research and alternate fuels development, among other things.

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