State Sen. Leonard Lance entered the race for Congress today, brandishing his record of fiscal conservatism in Trenton as the campaign weapon that will set him apart from the slew of other potential Republican candidates for the seat and, if he wins the June primary, against Assemblywoman Linda Stender in a general election.
Lance, who's faced criticism from his own party for a gentlemanly, statesman-like manner that some members said made him a poor attack dog against Democrats, pledged that he would not change his ways, but would run an aggressive campaign nonetheless.
"For me this will be an optimistic and positive campaign — the way I have always campaigned," he said.
The campaign kickoff press conference took place in Hunterdon County's historic court house in downtown Flemington – deep Lance territory. Lance is popular here in his home county, which accounts for an important chunk of the district's Republican primary votes. He announced that he has the support of all 17 of the county's Republican mayors – although not Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio, the county's one Democratic mayor and husband of Hillary Clinton's New Jersey state director, Karen Kominsky.
"I'm working on the Democratic mayor," he joked.
The district is comprised of four counties: Hunterdon, Union, Somerset and Middlesex, each of which will hold a convention over the next few months to endorse a candidate. Lance said that he plans to attend each convention after shoring up Republican committee support in other counties as well.
Lance didn't reference any of his many potential Republican primary opponents by name, instead arguing that he's the only legislator running and has a proven record on fiscal and environmental issues, most notably successfully suing Gov. McGreevey's administration for borrowing money for general operating portions of the state budget without voter approval. He also noted that he bucked his own party in the 1990s by voting against Gov. Christie Whitman's borrowing of $3 billion for state pensions.
"I and I alone have a record of challenging the Democratic party and on occasion challenging my own party regarding fiscal issues," said Lance. "And I believe that I can claim accurately that I'm the strongest fiscal conservative in the race, given my clear record in the legislature."
Other Republicans running for the seat include former gubernatorial daughter Kate Whitman, former Summit Council President Kelly Hatfield, Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks, Warren Township Mayor Victor Sordillo, former Hillsborough Deputy Mayor Chris Venis and Iraq vet Tom Roughneen.
But although Lance's Trenton experience may make him the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, he did not start raising money until the beginning of this year, and won't have to file with the Federal Election Commission until March. Today he announced that deodorant heir Will Mennen, who earlier considered running for the seat, would serve as his finance chairman.
Lance said he's pleased with early fundraising efforts, and earlier this month told PolitickerNJ.com that he hired prominent Republican fundraising firm Turnkey Productions. But Lance did not want to dwell on numbers.
"We have to recognize that this is a campaign that should be determined on the issues. Fundraising is part of that, but the most important part of being a member of congress is knowledge on the issues that concern the American People," said Lance.
Meanwhile, Lance's potential primary opponent, Kate Whitman, raised nearly $200,000 during the last few weeks of 2007, while Marty Marks has put $75,000 of his own money into his campaign.
Although Lance sought to highlight his own record rather than single out any of his Republican opponents', his criticism of Stender was more pointed.
"Linda Stender has a clear record of raising taxes in Trenton. Business taxes, the state income tax and massive borrowing. She would do the same in Washington," said Lance. "In direct contrast, I am the only republican candidate in this race who has a direct record on those matters."
Lance also said that he has a better record than Stender on environmental issues.
The mix of environmentalism, fiscal conservatism and his socially moderate positions make Lance the most in tune candidate with the district's voters, he said, noting that the Sierra Club singled him out for praise.
On immigration, Lance said that he would vote to increase border security through technological measures, and would oppose amnesty plans for illegal immigrants. He also said that he may advocate cutting foreign aid to Mexico and other Central American nations if they do not stop making "use of the United States to avoid addressing their internal problems."
Lance also pledged that, if elected, he would never sponsor and earmark and would advocate cutting taxes, particularly for the middle class.
"We must restore integrity by ending the scandalous earmarks process," he said.
Lance said that he will run an "extremely aggressive" campaign against Stender if he wins the primary, but insisted that it would not be a negative campaign.
"I try to lead by example, and I alone am the person who has sued a series of governors on matters of fiscal responsibility, and I can think of nothing more aggressive than that," he said. "It's not nasty. It's a difference of views on fundamental public policy."
“With Leonard Lance’s own long record of raising taxes on New Jersey families, I don’t think this is a debate he really wants to engage in,” said Carrie James, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “While Republicans fight in a contentious and expensive primary, Linda Stender is focused on listening to voters and talking about her ideas to change the direction of our country.”