Republican leaders are warming to assembly candidate Robert Villare, but they see his running mate, Lee Lucas, as a heavy drag on the ticket.
“We haven’t made any final decisions on funding and assisting campaign around the state. And those decisions will be closer to the fall,” said Assembly Republican Victory Executive Director Mark Duffy.
After Villare and Lucas pulled off an upset in the 3rd District Republican primary last month, Duffy said that his organization, which considered the district a possible pickup opportunity with the right political climate, would not invest funds there.
The reasoning was that Villare, a cardiothoracic surgeon who grew up in New Jersey but only recently moved back after spending a couple years in Delaware, would be susceptible to a residency challenge. The problem with Lucas was more intractable: he wrote controversial letters to newspapers in which he called welfare recipients “inferior” and decried the idea of government protecting the weak at the expense of the strong.
In a sign that relations between Villare and establishment Republicans have at least thawed, newly elected Republican State Chairman/Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) met with the candidate last week. All three of the district’s Republican chairs have also reached out to him.
“They’re pretty much telling me they’re behind me 200%,” said Villare. “I think the warming is they’re all getting to know me now. We really didn’t know each other during the primary.”
Villare said that Webber, an attorney with a Harvard Law pedigree, backed up his own research that showed the residency issue won’t be vulnerable to a challenge.
“I’ll just simply say that I’ve done enough legal research on the side that [a challenger] would have Mount Etna to climb,” he said.
Gloucester County Republican Chairman Bill Fey said that Villare made his case to him and that he believes the residency issues “have evaporated.” Lucas, however, is another story.
“From my point of view, I can’t work with someone who has a social Darwinian point of view… I’ve told him that person,” said Fey.
Fey has called for Lucas to drop his candidacy, and wrote an op-ed condemning his statements after Gloucester County Equal Opportunity Director Milton Hinton wrote an op-ed that slammed the county’s Republican leadership for not publicly repudiating Lucas’s statements. In a response, Fey pointed out that his political allies did criticize the comments, including Jeff Morris, who is now one of the party’s executive directors.
Although they ran on the same slate under Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan, Villare and Lucas have run altogether separate campaigns. Both men said that they do not have a relationship. In fact, they’ve never even talked.
“They’re open to helping [Villare] out? He may be a little more liberal than me,” said Lucas.
Lucas, however, has no intention of dropping out.
“I am obsessed with politics. This is the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life, that I won that primary,” he said. “What’s so satisfying about it is that I beat their two candidates: George Shivery and Art Marchand. With all their denouncements… they said I was like Hitler and I’m hateful, because my rhetoric is inflammatory.”
Lucas admits that many of his statements, taken at face value, can be construed in the worst possible light. And if Democratic incumbents John Burizchelli (D-Paulsboro) and Celeste Riley (D-Bridgeton) actually perceive a threat in the district, they almost certainly will be splashed across flyers.
For instance, in a telephone conversation today he said that “the basis of my plan is to limit [welfare recipients’] propagation because they’re limiting our propagation. This tax burden is being shifted to us.” He also said that “these people are inferior and we need to get rid of them.”
But Lucas said he does not advocate forced sterilization, and that by “getting rid” of poor residents he does not mean through coercive measures.
“I’m not advocating for forced sterilizing, but if women continue to have children out of wedlock, I would hope they would get sterilized,”he said.
“I purposely decided to break these taboos and use this inflammatory language…They can take it out of context. They can win the debate by controlling speech, but I think it’s gotten to the point now where any other approach to the solution to the fiscal problem will not work. I am convinced that my approach is the only way.”
Despite new support for Villare, however, Republicans will likely have a hard time making headway while supporting just one of two candidates.
“The fundraising tends to work best if you’re fundraising for a team rather than individually, so you can pool your resources and send flyers,” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray.
Two candidates means two sets of fundraising contacts. It also means more bang for your campaign buck, with flyers touting both candidates.
Moreover, split districts are rare in New Jersey — even if District 3 was split between state Democratic Sen. Ray Zane and Republican Assemblymen Jack Collins and Gary Stuhltrager until 2001 — and they tend only to happen in hyper competitive districts or when a candidates has good name ID and bi-partisan appeal (see Diane Allen).
“They’re probably better off writing this one off and trying to regroup and get their act together as a party,” said Murray. “I just don’t see any action down there.”