Seeking U.S. Senate seat, Pennacchio still has to get by Wasim Kahn

With all the buzz around Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio’s potential run for U.S. Senate, it’s easy to forget that he still has a State Senate race to run against Dr. Wasim Khan in the 26th District. While Pennacchio is eyeing winning the Republican nomination against Anne Estabrook and ultimately taking down Frank Lautenberg, the 51-year-old Montville dentist still has to face off against the Khan, a 52-year-old medical doctor from Parsippany.

Khan said he’s not offended that Pennacchio feels confident enough about winning the district lay the groundwork for a U.S. Senate campaign. Rather, he says, it’s the voters who should be bothered.

“I guess it’s for all to see that Pennacchio’s campaign is not interested in the state issues,” said Khan, who ran unsuccessfully for Parsippany-Troy Hills Township Council in 2005. “He’s also telling the electorate that he’s taking it for granted that he’s going to win, which I think is an insult to the voting public.

Granted, the 26th district, which is also home to Assembly Minority Leader Alex Decroce, is not by any means considered competitive — party registration is well over 2-1 Republican, and it consistently votes that way. In fact, no Democrat has won a legislative seat there since John Sinsimer rode in on the anti-Nixon wave of 1973, only to lose the seat two years later to Dean Gallo.

Khan, who held a fundraiser for Dennis Kucinich at his home in April, is a long-shot candidate. But if he’s dispirited about his chances, he’s not letting on.

Khan noted that the majority of voters in the district are not registered to either party and that he won’t take any vote for granted. And as an epidemiologist who’s approved cancer medications for the food and Drug Administration, Khan says he’s in a unique position to champion health care issues – especially relevant in a district where the pharmaceutical industry is a major employer.

“I’m not running as only a Democrat or Republican or any political interest group,” said Khan. “I definitely have every intention to push for all of those issues if I’m elected, and they are meant for all of New Jerseyans.”

Pennacchio said that he takes all his races seriously, and took issue with the idea that he has been anything but sincere to his district’s voters.

“There is nobody more outspoken on the issues, nobody battling Trenton any harder than I have,” said Pennacchio. “He didn’t criticize Joe Lieberman when he ran for Vice President and U.S. Senator at the same time. There was no criticism from anybody on the other side of the isle when that was done.”

According to Pennacchio, the most pressing issue to his district’s voters is property tax and asset monetization. He noted that he’s challenged Gov. Jon Corzine to come to his district to hold a town hall meeting about the issue. Pennacchio also pointed out that Khan missed a chance to debate him in May when he failed to show up at a senior citizens’ center, even though his Assembly running mates were there. Khan said he was never informed.

“I haven’t heard him articulate anything about any of the issues that concern the constituents in this district,” said Pennacchio of Khan. “He seems to think a lot about what the constituents thinks about me, but he doesn’t articulate a message at all as to whether or not he agrees with me.”

In a Star-Ledger article from the weekend, Morris County Democratic Chair Lewis Candura asked of Pennacchio, “Why doesn’t he just start a presidential exploratory committee, too.”

Today, Pennacchio responded to that with one of his trademark quips.

“I appreciate Lou’s confidence, but I’ve already committed to Rudy Giuliani in 2008,” said Pennacchio.

Seeking U.S. Senate seat, Pennacchio still has to get by Wasim Kahn