If it were a Lex Luthor-lookalike contest between the campaigns' respective leading men it would be difficult to pick a winner, but it is not that in the 12th district, though the chief handlers of two proud and competitive women here are not unaware of their own head-to-bald-head rivalry.
Tom Fitzsimmons, campaign manager for Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, likens the Democrats to the out-of-sorts and ultimately out-of-their-element Hessians on the eve of the Battle of Trenton. Mike Premo, campaign manager for Democratic Senator Ellen Karcher, chooses another metaphor – but he sticks with the military imagery.
"This is the Battle of the Bulge," he says in the war room of campaign headquarters off of Route 79 in Freehold. "The Republicans are trying to reclaim ground and we're pushing them back."
The story in the darkening hours of Tuesday is all the Democratic Party ground game where people stand on street corners in Hightstown holding Karcher signs and pound pavement in Freehold and otherdistrict towns and implement a classic urban Democratic Party strategy of overwhelming the opposition with a suburban street presence – 500-strong by conservative estimates.
Early tracking results on both sides show the turnout is big in the district's biggest town,which happens to be Karcher's hometown, whereMarlboro Mayor Robert Kleinberg is in a battle withDemocrat Jonathan Hornik, son of the late mayor Saul Hornik.
"The local election there helps gin up the turnout for Ellen," says Premo.
But Fitzsimmons isn't especially concerned – or impressed.
"Jen got 45% of the vote in Marlboro in the last campaign and we still won," he says.
Premo strides through a thriving operation.
"We have seven staging locations, three buses of students from Rutgers, 20 passenger vans," he says of ops thatbegan this morning at 6 a.m. "We have bodies from labor, enviros, nurses, teachers, high school students, college students."
By comparison hesays the Republican ground assault is weak – ifalmost non-existent.
But on Main Street in Freehold, whereBruce's voicedrifiting out of Fed's Pizza fades and the mariachi strains come strongerfrom El Nuevo Mexico Records closer to GOP headquarters, ayoung man in cowboy bootsin the back room says his people got game.
"We have double the amount of human capital as in the last election," says Adam Puharic, chair of the Republican Party County Committee. "It's fantastic. The efforts here have been tremendous."
Looking at the county asa whole, Puharic says there's no competition in the 13th, no significant Democratic Party GOTV effort in the 11th, and as for the 12th where he now sits and oversees ops in Fitzsimmons' temporary absence andmay catch a glimpse now and again ofDemocratic Party bodies traipsing across his viewon the sidewalk, "I don't know what they're doing," he says, his face registering a flabbergasted double take."What are they doing?"
Working the phones amid a roomful of young people not afifththe size of the Dems' ops cross town, is GOP sehriff's candidate Kim Guadagno, and that's a tough race she's in – and it's too close to call, and that's what Democratic Party State Chairman Joseph Cryan wanted:a close race there and in the freeholder contests.
If Guadagno beats her Democratic opponent, Belmar PoliceChief Jack Hill, tonight- it will be the conclusion of a dogfight."Working all day," she says between calls.
The wagons are circling in the respective camps. Soon, Premo will head over to the Holiday Innin Tinton Falls for the final hours.
Having just finished interviews with News 12, NJN and 101.5, Fitzsimmons stands in the bowels of the Southgate Manor in Freehold, where he hopes his team will later celebrate a victory topside, and in the meantime he says what he sees as the Dems' Essex County wayward bus tour through Monmouth won't work.
"Voters have already made up their minds," he says, and when he hears his old fellow bald and bearded rival is upping the ante with the Battle of the Bulge comparison, he curses because he again must go back on his pledge to stay off the war metaphors.
"It's not the Battle of the Bulge," says Fitzsimmons. "It's Iwo Jima. We're fighting an enemy who's entrenched, who seemingly has every advantage – except one: which is the tenacity of the United States Marine Corps, and tonight, we will plant the flag."