One difference between Leonard Lance and the other Senate Republican leaders over the last thirty years is that Lance has never run himself in a competitive general election. His predecessor, John Bennett, began his legislative career by ousting three-term Democratic Assemblyman Walter Kozloski in 1979. Donald DiFrancesco, the Senate President from 1992 to 2002, unseated Democratic Assemblywoman Betty Wilson in 1975, and won a State Senate seat against Joanne Rajoppi, now the Union County Clerk, in a politically competitive district that included Plainfield and Rahway. John Dorsey, who followed DiFrancesco as Senate Minority Leader in 1984, defeated incumbent Democrats Gordon MacInnes and Rosemarie Totaro to win an Assembly seat in 1975, and beat incumbent State Senator Stephen Wiley in 1977. And Thomas Gagliano, who was Minority Leader in the late 1970's, won a competitive race for an open Senate seat in 1977, defeating Marlboro Mayor Arthur Goldzweig in a district that elected one Republican and one Democrat to the Assembly that year.
Lance, whose father served as an Assemblyman in the 1930's and as a State Senator in the 1940's and 1950's, has only run in a solidly Republican legislative district since winning a Special Election for the State Assembly in 1991. His only bid for higher office, a campaign for an open congressional seat in 1996, ended when he lost the GOP primary.