Less than an hour after Rep. Rob Andrews formally kicked off his Democratic primary campaign in Trenton, 84-year-old incumbent Sen. Frank Lautenberg turned out one quarter of the women in the U.S. Senate to stump for him today at a Newark fundraiser.
Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) spoke at the $500-per-head show of force at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Lautenberg staffers said the event is expected to raise at least $200,000 for the campaign – part of the $1 million in fundraising commitments that Lautenberg has gotten since Andrews started his challenge. That’s on top of the $4.3 million he already had in the bank.
Lautenberg was proud to stand among the female legislators, he had some questions about New Jersey’s latest female congressional candidate: Camille Andrews, who is running as a placeholder candidate for her husband in the 1st District (Rob Andrews has said that he will not return to the House if he loses the senate primary).
“Maybe (Rob Andrews) plans to lose the Senate run so he wants to know that he has another job waiting for him,” said Lautenberg. “It’s outrageous when you think about it — that he would ask his wife to take over to hold his seat even though he pretends that he won’t run for the Congress.”
Lautenberg joked that he “didn’t check” with Rob Andrews about the timing of the fundraiser, and his staff insisted that the timing was merely coincidental – that an event of this scale couldn’t have been put together over the weekend.
A number of state Democratic leaders and Congressmen also turned out for the event, including Gov. Corzine; Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman; Assemblywoman/Congressional candidate Linda Stender; Reps. Albio Sires and Steve Rothman.
The politicians portrayed Lautenberg as a young-at-heart politician with a good sense of humor in an election where Lautenberg’s advanced age of 84 is almost certain to be a major issue. They spoke repeatedly of his commitment to Amtrak, his bill that banned smoking on commercial aircraft, and of his early turn of heart against the Iraq War. But more than anything, those who spoke on Lautenberg’s behalf sought to show that he’s a feisty, effective and irreplaceable senator.
“Effective is getting four women senators to stand up for you on Monday at noon in the state of New Jersey to say you’re going to reelect Frank Lautenberg,” said Corzine.
Nobody mentioned Andrews by name, but the condemnation of his bid was made plain by Rothman, who himself played a major and well-publicized roll in preserving the Bergen County Democratic Organization’s line for Lautenberg (Rothman characterized his threat to run a line against Ferriero as a “disagreement” between friends that has since been resolved).
“For someone to suggest that we should take our strongest, most effective player on the team and tell him it’s time for him to retire? It’s foolish. It makes no sense,” he said.
During his speech, Lautenberg contrasted his record with Andrews on the Iraq war, which has been the central issue of his campaign so far. Andrews, he noted, co-authored the resolution that authorized the use of military force in Iraq, and stood with President Bush to announce it.
“When George W. Bush’s deceit and conduct on Iraq were clear, my opponent didn’t work to beat him,” said Lautenberg. “He joined him.”
Although Lautenberg was on the campaign trail during the run-up to the war and had expressed support for the effort, he pointed out that he was one of the earliest critics in the Senate.
But while Lautenberg continues to assail Andrews on the war, he remains non-committal on Andrews’s call for a series of seven debates.
“We’re going to get the issues out, and the last thing we’re going to debate is debates,” said Lautenberg, who added that he’d consider a debate “in due time.”
The senators’ speeches about Lautenberg emphasized his opposition to the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq.
“Your senator is the number one U.S. senator thorn in the side to Vice President Dick Cheney. He is on the Senate floor night and day talking about Dick Cheney’s tax returns, about Halliburton,” said Cantwell.
If the primary race has demonstrated one thing, it’s that Lautenberg doesn’t enjoy the most cordial relationship with many political insiders and power brokers across the state. But in her speech, Klobuchar noted his sense of humor.
She said that, as a freshman senator from Minnesota, she was put on the commerce committee’s subcommittee on oceans, despite her state’s land-locked geography.
“I wrote a letter to Frank. I said I’m the only member of the subcommittee that doesn’t have an ocean. In his usual sage, wise way he says to me ‘well next year just come back and ask for one,’” she said.
If Lautenberg wins the Democratic primary, he’ll be the frontrunner to win the general election against the three Republicans vying to take him on: Murray Sabrin, Joe Pennacchio and former Rep. Dick Zimmer.
Lautenberg said that the Republicans will have to work out their own primary, but repeated a sentiment he expressed to Washington reporters last week about Zimmer’s post-Congressional employment.
“The oddity is that I’ve never seen a lobbyist run for senate,” he said. “I’ve seen senators go to lobbying, but I’ve never seen one go the other way.”