The 12th district Republican candidates really would prefer to be in a “Clean Elections” district.
That’s because, had the 12th district been chosen, the Republican and Democratic candidates would almost certainly have gotten equal funds. But since it wasn’t, the Republicans are trailing in fundraising – badly.
Three districts were chosen to participate in the Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Program for the 2007 election: one Republican dominated, one Democrat dominated and one competitive. The 12th was a prime candidate for the “split” district, but it lost out to the 14th in a decision made by a panel headed by former Governor Jim Florio.
“There is absolutely no question that if we spend the same amount of money as our opponents, we will unquestionably beat them,” said Assembly candidate Declan O’Scanlon, who lost his bid for an assembly seat two years ago by under 100 votes. “If this were a fair election from a financial perspective, we’d clean their clocks. It’s only by ensuring that the financial playing field is grossly skewed do they have a shot.”
After expenditures, the two Republican Assembly candidates have about $20,000 in the bank, while their joint committee with state Senate candidate Jennifer Beck has about $7,000. The top of the ticket, Jennifer Beck, has about $36,000 cash-on-hand.
Assemblyman Mike Panter and running mate Amy Mallet have about $160,000, while state Senate incumbent Ellen Karcher has $68,000.
Perhaps that’s why Beck introduced legislation in April to include the 12th district in the pilot program – legislation that went nowhere in the Assembly.
It may look bad, but it’s a disparity that Republican candidates are confident they’ll be able to overcome. O’Scanlon noted that the fundraising patterns are similar to two years ago, when the Republican were dwarfed in spending but managed to win one out of two assembly seats in a very close election. Both Beck and O’Scanlon admit that they expect to be outspent – perhaps by as much as four to one – but say they will be able to raise adequate funds to run competitive a competitive campaign.
“Money plays a role but it’s certainly not an end-all,” said Beck. “Maybe you’re looking at the ELEC reports and say ‘hey, there’s a big disparity’ but the fundraising is easier this time and the money’s coming in.”
The 12th district is traditionally Republican, though it became vulnerable very recently. Prior to Karcher’s defeat of John Bennett in 2003, which was aided by the incumbent’s ethics scandal, the district had been entirely in Republican hands since 1979. That could provide some advantage to the Republicans, even if they’re outgunned financially.
“This is sort of the typical suburban district that in the past has voted Republican and four years ago rejected an experienced legislator for a new fresh face that ran a very aggressive campaign,” said Ingrid Reed, Director of the Eagleton Institute’s New Jersey Project.
Still, the Republican candidates complain that Panter and Karcher, both co-sponsors of the “Clean Elections” legislation, gave only half hearted support to getting the program into their district, knowing full-well that it would benefit their opponents – with Karcher not testifying on behalf of the district at the panel meeting chaired by former Governor Jim Florio, and Panter providing his support in writing.
“I think what was very telling was that neither Panter nor senator Karcher bothered to show up and testify that we should have been a clean elections district,” said Beck.
But Panter, who was out of the country during the testimony, said that his co-authorship of the legislation proves his sincerity. He added that he hopes the 12th district can participate in the program during the next legislative election.
“I’m disappointed that it wasn’t chosen,” said Panter.
Note: the original version of this story misstated the candidates’ cash-on-hand. Panter and Mallet have about $160,000 on hand, not $260,000. Ellen Karcher’s original total was also off: she has $68,000, not $167,000. Jennifer Beck has $36,000 cash on hand, not $30,000, while the joint committee with her Assembly running mates has $7,000, not $8,000.