Republicans have held Jim Saxton’s House seat continuously since 1884, when George Hires, a GOP State Senator from Salem County, ousted one-term Democratic Congressman Thomas Ferrell by 1,742 votes. Now, after four weeks of considerable drama and many surprises, the GOP candidate to hold this open seat against Democrat John Adler, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, may be decided in a June Republican primary between Medford Deputy Mayor Christopher Myers, a Lockheed-Martin executive, and Ocean County Freeholder John Kelly.
Political insiders from both parties had viewed popular State Senator Diane Allen, a former anchorwoman for the CBS news affiliate in Philadelphia, as the strongest potential GOP candidate. Allen had been planning to enter the race, but an intra-party squabble with Burlington Republican leader Glenn Paulsen led her to unexpectedly drop out of the race. Now it is a contest between two county organizations: Burlington is backing Myers, who is expected to raise huge amounts of money from the defense industry (Lockheed Martin is South Jersey’s largest employer), while Ocean is expected to support the Kelly, who emerged on Saturday as the choice of the party screening committee.
The Saxton seat is now viewed as among the most competitive races in the nation. Stuart Rothenberg and Charles Cook, two of the nation’s leading independent forecasters of congressional campaigns, put the District 3 contest in the toss-up column, while the Evans-Novak Political Report calls the race “Leaning Democratic Takeover.”
Saxton first went to Congress in 1984, defeating Ocean County Clerk Dean Haines and Assemblyman John Rocco for the seat of seven-term Congressman Edwin Forysthe, who died in office. Forsythe had won the seat in a 1970 special election after William Cahill, who had represented the district since 1959, was elected Governor.
(For extreme political junkies: Cahill, a former Assemblyman, Prosecutor and FBI agent, just narrowly won an open seat in 1958. He defeated Democrat Alexander Feinberg by a 50%-49% margin. During that campaign, Feinberg became a close friend (and later the personal attorney) of the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Harrison Williams. Feinberg was Williams’ co-defendant in the Abscam trial and later served several years in a federal prison.)
Cahill’s predecessor, Charles Wolverton, held the seat for 32 years before his retirement; a former Assembly Speaker and Camden County Prosecutor, Wolverton had ousted three-term incumbent Francis Ford Patterson in the 1926 GOP primary.