Atlantic County Sheriff Frank X. Balles easily won the nomination to run as the Republican candidate for state Senate in the 2nd Legislative District, beating political newcomer Marybeth Bennett.

“Now is when we gear up and we begin the campaign for the November election,” Balles said Tuesday night.

Balles won, 6,698 to 1,252, a more than five-to-one margin.

“We’re very much into our grassroots campaign, and the plan is to make sure we’re at as many functions as possible and knock on as many doors as possible.” Balles said, speaking from the Sandi Pointe Coastal Bistro in Somers Point, where county Republicans gathered.

“Well, although I didn’t come in as the winner, I think I still am a winner,” said Bennett, 48, of Egg Harbor Township, adding she learned, had good experiences and made a lot of friends. “It was really a great experience.

Bennett said she personally congratulated Balles and said she will support him in the fall campaign. “Definitely,” she said. “He’s a Republican. Yes, of course I would.”

Bennett had sought to run as the more conservative candidate in the race, running with Republican gubernatorial candidate Seth Grossman.

Republicans have looked to Egg Harbor Township resident Balles, 51, who has won his countywide office by large margins, to take on state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic. Whelan, 64, of Atlantic City, did not face a primary election challenger this year.

Balles has run his primary campaign with an eye to the fall, largely ignoring Bennett to target Whelan in speeches, press releases and public statements.

The race for the 2nd Legislative District has been the most competitive legislative race in the state, with both parties' candidates setting spending records in 2011. With Gov. Chris Christie at the top of the ticket this fall, it is again expected to be a highly sought-after seat.

Contact Derek Harper:

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.