Myers enters race for Congress with Saxton’s endorsement

After staying low key for the last month and a half, Christopher Myers officially announced his congressional candidacy today, representing Burlington County in a potential primary against upcoming primary against Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly.

Whoever wins that primary will probably face state Sen. John Adler, the likely Democratic nominee, in November.

U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton was there today to endorse the 42-year-old Lockheed Martin Vice President and newly sworn in Medford Mayor, who in turn pledged to continue Saxton’s legacy, emphasizing his fiscal conservatism and strength on environmental and national defense issues. He also stressed decreasing the national dependence on foreign oil.

“I am running for Congress as a ‘Jim Saxton Republican’ — a conservative on taxes and spending, a supporter of the environment and a friend of working men and women,” said Myers.

Many uniformed veterans showed up to support Myers, himself a naval veteran of the 1991 Gulf War.

“Winning the war on terrorism is the greatest challenge of our generation. We must ensure that whatever we do in Iraq, the terrorists don’t have a home base in Iraq and use that to attack us here in the United States.”

When pressed by reporters, Myers did not say how he would have voted on the original Iraq War resolution in 2003.

“I can’t change what happened in the past. I wasn’t there. We have to look forward,” he said.

Myers did not outline any plan for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, instead stressing his opposition to a specific timetable. Iran, he said, also represents a threat to national security, and said he was concerned about China and Pakistan as well.

Myers said he did not know how he would vote on the contentious expansion of the State Childrens Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP), a hot button issue in New Jersey. Saxton took a lot of flack from Democrats for casting his lot with the Bush administration and voting against it. Democrats were unable to override Bush’s veto of the bill, but will likely try again. Myers said that he’s reading up on SCHIP, but could not vote on the bill without understanding all of its nuances.

Although he would not go into specifics about how much his campaign has raised so far raised or whether he would self-fund any portion of it, Myers estimated that he would need to raise $3 to $5 million. Saxton told Roll Call yesterday that Myers had raised $150,000, and today a Myers aide who wished not to be identified when talking about finances said that the sum was greater.

Kelly told last week that he has $50,000 cash on hand and $150,000 in commitments. Meanwhile, Adler is well ahead of the pack, announcing yesterday that he had $580,000 cash on hand – none of which is likely to be spent on a primary battle.

Burlington and Camden Counties each have relatively equal chunks of the district’s registered Republicans, while Camden County has just one town in the district: predominantly Democratic Cherry Hill. But with the two dominant county organizations squaring off, Camden County Republican Chairman Rick DiMichele’s endorsement could prove influential. As of right now, he’s undecided, but expects to make a decision soon after meeting with both of the candidates.

Although Saxton has long since given his tacit approval to Myers, he made it clear today that he sees him as the most qualified of the two mainstream Republican candidates. Saxton recounted an incident from 2004, when Medford suffered flooding from a particularly bad thunderstorm.

“When I arrived on scene in Medford, there was one man in charge. It was Chris Myers…. That day and in the months that followed, Chris made order out of disorder,” said Saxton. “It was that experience that showed me what propels Chris Myers. It’s his very nature.”

Saxton spokesman Jeff Sagnip Hollendonner pointed out that Myers is the exact same age that Saxton was when he was sworn in back in 1984 – plenty of time to work his way up the seniority ladder in Congress. Today, Saxton expressed hope that Myers could be appointed to the Armed Services Committee, on which he currently serves.

Although sources close to Saxton have said that the congressman is concerned that Kelly’s candidacy could make the seat more vulnerable to a Democratic pickup, Saxton said today that he didn’t want to characterize it that way.

“But in comparing my potential replacements I think that Chris stands head and shoulders above everyone else,” he said.

Kelly said that he would have liked to have gotten Saxton’s endorsement, but was not surprised that he gave it to Myers, a personal friend. He said, however, that it would not discourage him from campaigning.

“I congratulate Chris on getting the endorsement, but it has nothing to do whether I continue my campaign,” he said.

Kelly plans to hold his own press conference to officially announce his candidacy on Tuesday. He has already been endorsed by the Ocean County Republican Party.

Myers did not want to talk about the potential looming primary with Kelly. Instead, he focused his attacks on John Adler, who he called “the most liberal member of the legislature” and a “longtime Trenton politician whose failed tax, spend and borrow politics have made New Jersey unaffordable for working families.” He went on to express disdain for Trenton politics, saying that it was “making government corruption synonymous with New Jersey.”

Adler responded that the response he’s gotten while campaigning has been overwhelmingly anti-Bush, and said that his potential Republican opponents represent more of the same.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Carrie James echoed Adler’s sentiments.

“Chris Myers represents the same old, negative, George Bush Republican policies that the American people are rejecting nationwide,” she said in a statement. “New Jersey families want a change in direction in Iraq, a balanced budget and health care for kids – changes that – just like Congressman Saxton -Myers will refuse to make.”

Myers enters race for Congress with Saxton’s endorsement