WASHINGTON - Rep. Marge Roukema took a big step this week toward becoming the next head of the House Banking Committee by winning the Republican primary in New Jersey's 5th Congressional District.
The 10-term moderate lawmaker barely won, defeating conservative state Assemblyman E. Scott Garrett by 52% to 48%. The margin of victory was 1,643 votes, even closer than her 1,700-vote squeaker over Mr. Garrett in the 1998 primary.
"A win is a win is a win," Rep. Roukema told her supporters after declaring victory shortly before midnight Tuesday. "It's 52%, and 52% will take it. We were talking about the issues that count with the American people, and setting the stage for a Republican victory in November."
In other races Tuesday, House Banking Chairman Jim Leach was uncontested in the Republican primary for Iowa's 1st district. He will face the Democratic primary winner, Bob Simpson, a new challenger for the 12-term lawmaker and advocate for the disabled.
In the Democratic primary for the open New Jersey Senate seat, former Goldman Sachs chairman Jon Corzine easily defeated former Gov. Jim Florio.
Rep. Roukema, 70, is the longest-serving woman in the House, and has won her last two general elections by large margins. In an interview Wednesday, Rep. Roukema predicted a similar win over the Democratic challenger, Linda Mercurio.
Rep. Roukema also made it clear that she wants to succeed Rep. Leach, who plans if reelected to step aside as committee chairman because of the Republicans' six-year term limit on chairmanships. Rep. Roukema is next in line, on the basis on seniority, because the panel's No. 2 Republican, Rep. Bill McConnell, is running for the Senate.
After downplaying speculation that she will be challenged by Rep. Richard H. Baker, R-La., she warned House Republicans that internal squabbles over committee chairmanships could hurt the party. "We are going to have to do this in a very professional way and not cause divisions and damage the effectiveness of our majority on the committee," she said.