Republicans and Stender gear up after out-of-nowhere Ferguson announcement

U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson today became the second New Jersey Republican Congressman in as many weeks to announce he would not run for another term.

Amid the smoldering remains of the Bush era, Iraq, the aftershock of Ferguson's life and death struggle in the last election, and news this month that he missed a vote on flood relief, Democrats were convinced they could hear him crying uncle.

Not so, said the 37-year old Ferguson, whose statement today indicated that he wants to spend more time with his growing family.

"Do you have kids?" wondered Somerset County Republican Party Chairman Dale Florio, in deference to the congressman's public rationale for departure.

One of Ferguson's would-be GOP successors, Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks, also admitted, "It always amazed me how he was able to take care of his family and the demands of his office."

Money appeared to be no significant issue for Ferguson, whose fund-raising ability exceeded that of most of his colleagues in the U.S. Congress, in part because he had the go-to presence of the health, insurance and real estate industries.

The congressman's top contributors included pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Merck, and GlaxoSmithKline.

Ferguson has $758,292 cash on hand, according to the report he filed on Sept. 30 with the Federal Election Commission, compared to the $36,072 of the likely Democratic candidate, Assemblywoman Linda Stender.

Ferguson beat Stender when she challenged him in 2006, but barely – clinging to his seat by a margin of 3,000 votes, or one percent.

Stender gets the lions share of her money from individual contributors, and Democratic/liberal political action committees, and ever since her near win last year caught the attention of the party big shots she's been in neck roll mode, just waiting for a second chance.

"We're here supporting Democratic candidates who are running against incumbents," said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America, on the Saturday before Election Day two weeks ago.

The brother of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean cheered a speech Stender delivered to a crowd of college volunteers who moments later charged onto the streets of Berkeley Heights in vans loaded down with signs for "Gina Genovese for State Senate."

It was precisely Stender's enthusiasm for the coming Congressional campaign – pumping up the troops outside of her own legislative district, for example – that contributed to her underwhelming showing at the finish line in her district 22 legislative race, according to Republicans.

She beat her GOP opponent by just seven percentage points.

Stender today reiterated her vow to fight against the party that brought the country George W. Bush and the War in Iraq. Now she will not enjoy the built-in advantage of having an opponent whom many of the district's Democratic voters saw as a Bush administration Igor with his "yes" votes on the war, the Patriot Act, and the Dick Cheney school of energy policy.

But whoever the GOP nominee, Bush's party still stood by and defended his main initiatives, Stender argues.

Union County Republican Chairman Phil Morin said 2006 was an aberration, and with the neo-cons diminished and Bush in lame-duck limbo, the Dems this time won't be able to play the outrage compounded by revulsion card.

As for Ferguson, sources in both parties who wished to remain anonymous said the nationwide prospect of Democrats consolidating control in the U.S. House of Representatives next year means more – not less – misery for incumbent Republicans.

"He had just had enough," said one Republican source.

Continuing a downward trudge after being in the majority with Bush doesn't carry much of a thrill, particularly when that kind of suffering prevents a man from spending time with his children.

Republicans and Stender gear up after out-of-nowhere Ferguson announcement