EGG HARBOR TWP. – He’s the face of the Republican Party right now down here in Atlantic County, but it’s a safe bet that when they make the movie about Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Twp.) they won’t cast Steve Buscemi.
“He looks like he’s right out of central casting,” Republican campaign strategist Chris Russell observed as Polistina, his wife and their three boys descended the stairs of the makeshift stage to live bagpiper accompaniment and into the crowd that packed the bay of the Farmington Firehouse.
The rat-faced Buscemi was Republican boss Nucky Thompson, of course, in “Boardwalk Empire,” and the GOP has different designs on party packaging with Polistina, who’s challenging state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic City) for the right to occupy the top of the 2nd Legislative District totem pole.
In a sign of taking this contest seriously in a fairly split district (38,841 registered Democrats to 31,762 Republicans on paper) and just two days after Gov. Chris Christie was here spotlighting the boardwalk as an international tourists’ destination and a day following state Sen. Joe Kyrillos’s (R-Middletown) appearance in the district, state Sen. Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield) personally made the two-hour trek down the Parkway to this town at the edge of the marshes.
“His presence alone is an indication that he is focused on bringing at least 21 Republicans to the state senate,” Polistina told PolitickerNJ.com moments after clasping hands with Kean. “It signifies a collaborative commitment.”
South Jersey’s own budding new empire of Republicans occupied the big room here tonight on behalf of Polistina, anchored by veteran U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor), and including Polistina’s running mate Assemblyman John Amodeo (R-Margate), Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, Atlantic County GOP Chairman Keith Davis, Cape May County Republican Chairman Michael Donohue.
Egg Harbor Mayor (and former state Senator) Sonny McCullough stood onstage with Polistina and introduced him to the crowd.
LoBiondo, Kean and Amodeo struck dark-suited power postures at the front of a room that also contained attorney (and Iraq War vet) Chris Brown of Ventnor and Freeholder Frank Formica of Margate, the two men who will compete at an upcoming convention to occupy the second Assembly candidate spot on the ticket with Polistina and Amodeo. A night earlier, Atlantic County attorney Nick Menas held a fundraiser for Polistina that one GOP source said raised the senate candidate north of $50K.
Joined by his beaming family on a stage decked with balloons, Polistina forked a speechful of Republican red meat into the crowd. Broken system. Career politician in Whelan. Part of the problem. Poster child of a broken system. Puppet of powerful Democratic Party bosses who bankroll him.
“Vince! Vince! Vince!”
“He will try to run as far away and fast as he can from his record, but we’re not going to let him get away with that,” Polistina told the crowd. “We are going to hold him accountable.”
An engineer, Polistina runs his own business, which he says provides for ten families and fulfills a workload of 60% public contracts and 40% private.
Chopped into an urban and suburban portion, the 2nd Legislative District contains the Atlantic City gaming district created this week by Christie, and in the main supported by both Whelan and Polistina. The two part company on the Opportunity Scholarship act, the Christie-backed vouchers pilot bill, which Polistina says he supports.
“It’s no secret that we need to end the reign of some of our failed schools,” Polistina said.
The campaign acknowledged Polistina put his operation in gear early for a November face-off with Whelan and in advance of legislative redistricting.
“You don’t beat an incumbent senator by starting late,” said Russell. “No one thinks Jim Whelan is going to be a pushover. We don’t know how the district is going to change. We assume it’s not going to change that much.”
The craggy veteran presence of McCullough onstage to introduce Polistina contained its own symbolism. Four years ago, McCullough attempted to carry on Atlantic County GOP lineage as the four-year succesor to Republican state Sen. William Gormley. In beating him, Whelan disrupted the hope McCullough had of redefining the post-Gormley era as the county’s new towering Republican.
“Our party was divided in 2007 with Gormley not backing me, and, of course, it was different, too, with all of the (George W.) Bush backlash,” said the Egg Harbor mayor.
Now, with Gov. Christie at the helm in Trenton and Republicans reinvigorated with the notion that they can be competitive, it’s Polistina’s turn.