For a candidate who’s running for state Senate against a powerful, entrenched incumbent in a heavily Democratic district, Bob Martin has put a lot at stake.
The 50-year-old Hopewell Township resident, a partner at the consulting firm Accenture, has pumped nearly $100,000 of his own money into his race against Shirley Turner, who’s running for her fourth term in the Senate. But the district’s numbers alone – a 3-1 Democratic registration advantage, –look almost insurmountable. “There’s no doubt that by registration there are more Democrats than Republicans here,” said Martin. “But the 53,000 unaffiliated voters out there have a big say in this election, and we’ve reached out to them.”
What Martin hopes is that voters see the same malaise in Trenton that he does. Constituents, he said, are fed up with Democrats like Turner, the Senate President Pro Tempore, who he likens to Gov. Jon Corzine. Neither, he said, have done much to take on important issues like property tax reform or gang violence, and he hangs the asset monetization issue over Turner’s head.
And so Martin took a leave of absence from Accenture to devote himself full-time to his long-shot campaign, knocking on 6,000 doors so far, running cable television ads and putting up campaign signs all over the district.
“I wouldn’t be putting this kind of money and time in if I didn’t believe I can win,” said Martin. “The facts are that people are really frustrated out there with what’s going on in Trenton, and people are very frustrated that senators like Shirley Turner haven’t gotten the job done.
The top issue in Martin’s platform is property tax reform, and he draws on a campaign theme Republicans have been using a lot lately – that New Jersey is losing residents because of the high taxes. Next down on his agenda is controlling gang violence, which he said has spilled out from Trenton’s urban core into its inner-suburbs, and his opposition to asset monetization.
Martin has made some interesting campaign moves, like asking Turner to join him in calling for an end to senatorial courtesy – a practice that she has used. Today, Martin issued a press release accusing Turner of ducking debates with him after telling the Trenton Times that she welcomed the idea of holding five forums with him. So far, the two candidates have engaged in only one.
Martin said that he can draw on his experience turning under-performing companies around as a consultant, bringing that to what he sees as a dysfunctional government.
“I saw more issues arising in the state, and I didn’t believe Governor Corzine had the guts to make some of the tough calls to start making things happen,” said Martin. “And I watched Shirley turner do the same thing.”
While it’s hard to know whether Martin’s efforts will translate into votes, his campaign has drawn ome notice. Recently, he won an informal, unscientific PoliticsNJ.com poll as the State Senate challenger running the best campaign in non-competitive districts. But more importantly, Martin said, he knows his campaign is making inroads because he thinks that Shirley Turner actually has to campaign, noting that he’s seen her ads on television.
But Turner said that, while she always takes challenges seriously, Martin is putting up no more of a fight than any of her previous challengers. In 2003, she got more than twice as many votes as her Republican opponent, Calvin Iszard, and in 2001 beat Republican Norbert Donelly by an even larger margin.
And Turner doesn’t appear to be in any danger of being out-funded by her wealthy Republican challenger. As of the last ELEC report, she’s sitting on $467,391.
According to Turner, Martin is the one ducking the debates. She said that she refused to participate in one at Rider University because he would not attend one in Trenton.
“I’m wondering who is ducking who here. Who’s trying to get out of debating,” said Turner.
Turner took issue with the idea that she hasn’t done enough to address gang violence in her district, noting that she introduced two bills that were recently signed into law increasing penalties for possessing illegal guns and forcing suspects to disclose the source of their bail money. She also noted that she has bills either pending or yet to be introduce that will force those caught with illegal guns to pay full cash bail, stiffen penalties for selling guns to minors and forbidding those who don’t have a gun permit from buying ammunition.
“I don’t know of anybody in the senate who has been more of an advocate and who has introduced more bills that are anti-gang related than myself,” said Turner. “You can speak to our senate president as well as the chairman of the law and public safety committee, where my bills are, and I have been pounding away asking that my bills be heard.”
Turner also noted her early declared opposition to asset monetization, and pointed to a Trenton Times op-ed she authored as evidence.
Perhaps in an anomaly in a state where candidates of both parties haven’t exactly been emphasizing their party affiliation, Turner proclaims it proudly. Martin, who’s pro-choice, says he’s proud to be a Republican but considers himself unbeholden to the party, and that his self-financing will reinforce that.
“I’m running as a Democrat. He’s a Republican but doesn’t want anyone to know it,” said Turner.