Area candidates for legislative and regional seats have begun the six-week dash to the Nov. 2 final election, with several battles for legislative seats promising to capture the local spotlight.
The general election campaign season officially got underway this week after a primary election Tuesday that included several lively bouts.
Former Salem city solicitor John D. Keenan handily won the Democratic contest for the Seventh Essex District seat in the House of Representatives that is open because of veteran Democrat J. Michael Ruane's retirement. Keenan picked up 3,676 votes, to 2,364 for City Councilor at Large Joan B. Lovely and 45 for Michael Blatty. The district encompasses the city of Salem.
''It's a very humbling experience and I'm honored to have received such support in the community," said Keenan, who credited a strong grass-roots organization for the victory.
''We had a game plan, we executed it, and it worked," he said.
Lovely, who had been endorsed by Ruane and former state Senate president Kevin Harrington, said, ''We were thrilled with the support we received. We couldn't have done any more. . . . We just didn't prevail."
Democratic incumbents won by comfortable margins in three other state House primary races.
In the 12th Essex District, which includes five Peabody wards, state Representative Joyce A. Spiliotis defeated School Committee member Anne M. Manning and former city councilor Joseph R. Silva. Spiliotis received 2,669 votes to 1,749 for Manning and 1,165 for Silva.
The morning after primary day, Spiliotis's former husband, William Spiliotis, with whom she had remained close, died of a heart attack.
''Between mayor [Peter] Torigian this week, his children losing a loving father, and now my daughters losing their father, it's been a tragic week," she said. Torigian, the former Peabody mayor, died Sept. 11.
Manning said she was disappointed but ''we ran a great race and I wouldn't have changed a thing. . . . Voters made a choice and I'm fine with it."
State Representative Douglas W. Petersen of Marblehead defeated Marc Paster, a Swampscott selectman, by 3,764 to 1,795 votes in the Eighth Essex District, which includes Marblehead, Swampscott, and part of Lynn.
''We ran a very positive campaign and we did a lot of door-knocking, visiting people at the supermarket, the farmer's market and other public venues," Petersen said.
He said the outcome reflected ''a general expression of confidence" from voters ''not only in what I've accomplished but what I would accomplish in the next couple of years."
Paster said he was disappointed but ''certainly not discouraged," saying the race had been a positive experience.
''People left me with a very clear message that right now, they're not ready for a change," he said.
In the Ninth Essex, which includes parts of Lynn, Lynnfield, Saugus, and Wakefield, incumbent Mark Falzone of Saugus outpaced Saugus Town Meeting member Debra Panetta, by 2,426 votes to 1,672.
Falzone said he was ''pleased with the vote of confidence I received from the voters."
''I think this shows that the voters know that I'm accessible, that I'm in touch with the community and clearly that I know the priorities for our district."
Panetta said she regarded the result as ''favorable even though I didn't win." She said the fact that she finished just over 200 votes behind Falzone in Saugus ''shows that many people have the same issues, the same concerns that I do."
Among the final election contests certain to command local interest is the First Essex and Middlesex District battle between state Senator Bruce E. Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Paul M. McGeary of Gloucester.
The district includes Boxford, Essex, Georgetown, Gloucester, Groveland, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Middleton, Newbury, North Reading, Rockport, Rowley, Wenham, West Newbury, Wilmington, and part of North Andover.
Tarr is a popular five-term state senator, and a Democrat has not won the district in many years. But McGeary, a first-time candidate who was energized by Howard Dean's presidential bid, is campaigning actively.
Also animated is the race between state Senator Richard R. Tisei, a Wakefield Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Melrose School Committee member Katherine Clark.
Tisei, who is seeking his eighth term, is a popular figure in the district that includes Lynnfield, Malden, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and part of Melrose. But Clark has been running an energetic campaign that is increasing her visibility.
In the Fourth Essex District, Republican incumbent Bradford R. Hill of Ipswich is opposed by Democrat Tim Purinton of Ipswich, an environmental advocate and political newcomer, in the state representative race.
House Republican Leader Brad Jones of North Reading faces a challenge from Reading Democrat and political newcomer Ben Tafoya in the 20th Middlesex District, which includes North Reading and parts of Lynnfield, Middleton, and Reading.
GOP challenges are being mounted in four other area House districts.
Petersen will do battle in the final with Sharon Randall, a political newcomer from Marblehead. Falzone will vie with newcomer Michael Motzkin of Wakefield. State Representative Theodore C. Speliotis of Danvers is being opposed by Judith Judson of Topsfield, a first-time candidate in the 13th Essex, which includes Danvers, Topsfield, and part of Peabody. .
State Representative Barbara A. L'Italien, an Andover Democrat, is battling Andover Republican Maria Marasco in the 18th Essex District, which includes parts of Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Haverhill, Methuen, and North Andover.
Keenan will square off in the Seventh Essex final with Republican David B. Summer and Richard H. Grabowski, a member of the Green-Rainbow Party.
In another race this fall, US Representative John F. Tierney of Salem faces Republican Stephen P. O'Malley of Nahant, a first-time candidate.
Essex County Sheriff Frank G. Cousins, a Newburyport Republican, is being challenged by Salem Democrat and Essex County correctional officer William F. Murley of Salem.
In the race for a state House seat in the Sixth Essex District, which encompasses the city of Beverly, incumbent Democrat Mary E. Grant is challenged by Independent Donato H. Paglia.