Democratic Congressional Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen came up to New Jersey today to show his organization's support for two congressional candidates: state Sen. John Adler and Assemblywoman Linda Stender, and he brought U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone with him.
Both Democrats declared their candidacy early, thinking they were going to run against incumbents. Now those seats have unexpectedly opened up, which gave Van Hollen an opportunity to turn GOP state Chairman Tom Wilson's own words again him.
"When the chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party was asked a number of weeks back about prospects for holding onto these two seats, his answer was ‘well, incumbents always have an edge.' Well, that argument has clearly been taken away from him," said Van Hollen. "Given the Republican Chairman's argument, it's clear that they understand what they're up against this time around."
But it doesn't look like that will be the case in the third and final New Jersey congressional district that the DCCC has targeted: the second district, where no declared challenger has yet emerged to take on U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo. And to hear LoBiondo's people tell it, that Congressman isn't going anywhere.
"Yes, he's going to run again," LoBiondo campaign manager Kevin Tomafsky told PoltickerNJ.com on Thursday.
The DCCC clearly has its eye on Assemblyman/state Senator-Elect Jeff Van Drew for the seat, who's frequently mentioned as the only potential Democrat who could give LoBiondo a run for his money.
Democratic sources said that Van Drew met with Van Hollen today to talk about the prospect of running, and that the Assemblyman asked the Chairman to commission a poll about his chances in the district.
"I have spoken with (Van Drew) today, and I've spoken to him in the past. But I think, obviously, he's going to have to make a decision, and I'm sure he'll consider the best interests of his constituents in making that decision," said Van Hollen, who declined to say whether Van Drew asked him to conduct a poll.
But Van Hollen seemed well aware that a Van Drew candidacy is a sensitive issue – that a candidate freshly elected as State Senator after a tough battle shouldn't appear to be actively seeking a higher office so soon.
"We've reached out to Van Drew. It's not the other way around. We think he'd be a strong candidate," said Van Hollen, who said that the DCCC was also looking at other potential candidates, but would not give any names.
But Van Hollen didn't want to get too bogged down in second district talk, as the purpose of today's press conference was to show his organization's commitment to Stender and Adler.
Both candidates today were met with breaking news about their potential opponents – with Republican Diane Allen unexpectedly announcing that she would not run for Congress in Adler's district, and Kate Whitman declaring her candidacy in Stender's. But neither would speculate about who they'll likely run against.
Instead, much was made about the number of Republicans vying for the two newly opened congressional seats as evidence of the fractious state of the GOP compared to the Democrats, united behind these two candidates.
"I think we're on our way to a baker's dozen of people who are jumping into this race on the Republican side, but frankly I am focused on my campaign," said Stender.
Wilson said that, while the edge of incumbency is gone, Republicans still have a voter registration advantage in both districts, and that his party has plenty of time to coalesce around one candidate.
"The fundamentals of the district remain the same," said Wilson. "They have two fundamentally flawed candidates who have records on the issues that people care most about – taxes, ethics, spending, debt that are far out of line with what the people who live in those districts are going to want."
Stender said that her campaign would be about restoring the meaning of the American Dream, and said that her father, a World War II veteran, would be upset about the state of the country today.
"If you looked to the future through the prism of the last seven years, you could choose to despair – but I don't, and that's why I'm running," said Stender, who emphasized foreign policy changes, stem cell research and a national plan to respond to global warming.
Adler said that his constituents are "crying out for change," complaining of the nation's diminished stature on the world stage and its failure to address health care reform.
Adler stood next to Pallone, who has won many Democratic hearts for criticizing the seemingly untouchable U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie for awarding a lucrative oversight contract to his former boss, John Ashcroft.
And although Christie once referred to Adler's refusal to hold a Senate Judiciary Commtitee hearing on Chief Justice Stuart Rabner's nomination until his paperwork was in order as the "statement of a third-rate bureaucrat," Adler prefaced his feelings the obligatory statement of respect for Christie's job fighting corruption that Democrats unfailingly give.
But he stood by Pallone's letter.
"We're troubled in New Jersey by no-bid contracts, and this seemed to be another no-bid contract, and it was somewhat of a surprise to see the U.S. Attorney engaged in such a thing that Democrats and Republicans alike criticized," said Adler. "So I was happy Congressman Pallone raised an issue that I think is a valid public policy concern."
And if Adler does win the race, don't expect his wife, Cherry Hill Councilwoman Shelley Adler, to seek his state Senate seat, or an Assembly seat should one open up.
"I think it's extraordinarily unlikely, but I've learned from 21 years of marriage never to answer for my wife."