updated 6/8/2005 12:32:39 AM ET 2005-06-08T04:32:39

A millionaire businessman won New Jersey’s Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday and earned the right to face Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine in November — the state’s first race for governor since James McGreevey resigned in a gay-sex scandal.

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Doug Forrester edged former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler after spending millions of his own fortune to finance a campaign that took aim at the state’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes.

Corzine easily won the Democratic primary after facing only token opposition.

With 99 percent of precincts counted, Forrester had 106,542 votes, or 36 percent, to 93,541 votes, or 31 percent, for Schundler in the seven-way primary. Corzine had 88 percent of the vote.

In other races around the country, a 70-year-old retired judge led a 30-year-old Hispanic city councilman in a runoff for mayor of San Antonio, the nation’s eighth-largest city.

‘Part of the problem’
Forrester promised to “turn Jersey around” in a fiery victory speech in which he attacked the senator as being ill-equipped to solve New Jersey’s property tax dilemma.

“He (Corzine) can’t fix these problems because he is part of the problem,” Forrester said to cheering supporters. “Our victory tonight is a message to Jon Corzine: Don’t come home, we can’t afford you.”

Hours earlier, Corzine accepted his party’s nomination without attacking the Republicans or Forrester. “Tonight I make a pledge to the people of New Jersey, I won’t be anybody’s governor but yours,” he said in a veiled reference to New Jersey’s image as a state rife with political corruption.

Corzine declared his candidacy in December, a month after McGreevey, a fellow Democrat, resigned following his announcement that he had an extramarital affair with a man while in office. The man was later identified as his homeland security adviser.

Plenty of money
Corzine’s name recognition and wealth — he spent a record $63 million of his own fortune to get elected to the Senate in 2000 — will make the former Goldman Sachs chairman the favorite against Forrester in this Democratic-leaning state. Like his GOP rivals, Corzine has promised property tax relief. His plan would shift the property tax burden away from senior citizens and poor working families.

Forrester has said he will reduce property taxes by 10 percent in each of the next three years through spending cuts and layoffs.

The New Jersey contest is one of only two governor’s races being decided this year. The other is in Virginia.

Forrester, 52, is the owner of a prescription drug management company and former mayor of West Windsor, outside Princeton. He spent $7 million of his own money in 2002 trying to win a Senate seat, but Frank Lautenberg came out of retirement and beat him by 10 points.

Forrester had a big spending edge over Schundler, who accepted public matching funds. According to one estimate, Forrester spent more than $5 million on TV advertising alone.

In his victory speech, Forrester made special mention of his daughter Briana, 18, who suffered a near fatal brain hemorrhage in February 2004 and was diagnosed with cancer seven months later.

Forrester nearly skipped the governor’s race. But his daughter, the youngest of his three children, insisted he run.

The winner in November will succeed Democrat Richard J. Codey, who as president of the state Senate became acting governor when McGreevey stepped down. Codey decided not to run for a full term.

In other races Tuesday:

  • Former judge Phil Hardberger, 70, led Julian Castro, a youthful city councilman, in the race to become mayor of San Antonio after a campaign that got closer — nastier — in recent weeks. Hardberger led 52 percent to 48 percent with 40 percent of precincts reporting. Castro stood to become the second Hispanic elected mayor of a big city in three weeks, following Antonio Villaraigosa’s landslide victory in Los Angeles last month. Hardberger is looking to pull off a comeback after losing by double-digits in last month’s primary.
  • In Atlantic City, a veteran lifeguard ousted the incumbent in the race to lead the New Jersey gambling town. The victory by Bob Levy followed a mean-spirited campaign.

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