Leonard Lance doesn’t like to use the F-word, but some pundits say it applies to him in his bid for the Republican nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district.
“I never use the word ‘frontrunner’,” said Lance, a veteran State Senator from Hunterdon County. “I think it’s a dangerous word, and I campaign as vigorously as I can.”
While Kate Whitman, the daughter of former Gov.Christine Todd Whitman, has raised the most money in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Mike Ferguson, Lance appears to have raised enough to assuage doubts about his fundraising prowess. And he has secured the organization lines in two counties where 67% of Republican primary voters live.
As of the end of last month, Lance had raised $294,130 – which includes a $100,000 personal loan — and has $255,654 on hand for the primary. Whitman has taken in $444,433 and has $307,260 on hand, although about $50,000 of that is from maxed out donations and must be set aside for the general election.
Whitman has the organization line in Middlesex County, where about 6% of the primary voters live. The line in Union County (27%) went to P. Kelly Hatfield, a former Summit City Council President. Hatfield had $94,442 at the end of the last reporting period – mostly from a $60,000 personal loan.
“In this kind of a race, organizational support is usually kind of the tipping point for who is the frontrunner. I think because of the portion of the district that’s taken up by Hunterdon and Somerset, you have to give the nod to lance,” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray. “He’s the known commodity in the district, particularly in his home county of Hunterdon.”
Four other Republicans are seeking the seat that the GOP has held continuously since 1956 – but came within one percentage point of losing in 2006: Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks; Iraq war veteran and ex-prosecutor Tom Roughneen; A.D. Kumar, a business professor at Seton Hall University; and Darren Young, a perennial candidate who is on a slate with U.S. Senate candidate Murray Sabrin.
Marks, who is running to the right of the rest of the field, has invested $75,000 of his own money and has raised over $100,000. Roughneen has raised less than $25,000, while Amar and Young have not filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Lance’s organizational advantage may have caused Whitman to go negative – a move that is being criticizized by some party leaders as the GOP seeks to protect their candidate in what is expected to be a tough general election campaign against Democrat Linda Stender, a four-term Assemblywoman.
Earlier this month, Lance publicly denounced a Whitman campaign ad that attacked him for accepting donations from lobbyists who had business with the state. And while he’s pledged that he will campaign “optimistically” and on the issues, he’s begun running a cable advertisement to counter Whitman’s claims. The spot includes condemnations of the tactic by three prominent Republicans from the district: retiring Rep. Mike Ferguson; Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr.; and Assemblyman Pete Biondi, who called the Whitman ad “shameful and misleading.”
“I must say that I believe the Whitman ad was a misrepresentation and in some ways false. It was very disappointing to me,” Lance said. And although Lance faced tough primaries for his first Assembly bid and for an unsuccessful Congressional run in 1996, he said this is the worst he’s ever been attacked but that he was “pleased with our response.”
Lance has focused his campaign largely on policy, and earlier this week released a detailed energy plan to control the price of oil. It includes extending tax credits for hybrid cars, increasing tax credits for renewable energy, removing tariffs on nations that can provide alternative forms of energy, explore oil drilling opportunities in parts of the American west and suspending deposits into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Despite her ad, Whitman emphasized that she’s also focused her campaign on policy. She came out of the box with a six point plan for what she’ll do when elected to Congress. And yesterday, she put out a press release supporting a House resolution that would force Iraqis to eventually pay for their own country’s reconstruction with oil revenues.
Lance pointed out that Whitman has accepted donations from lobbyists as well. Whitman admitted taking lobbying money, but said that she’s not a sitting state Senator. Lance had repeatedly pledged not to take donations from businesses with interests in the state. To do so at a federal level but not a state level, Whitman said, is hypocritical.
“I haven’t spent the last five years talking about how pay to play should be banned and then turn around running for federal office while accepting money from them,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s anything illegal, but since he’s run his whole race on being principled, I’m going to talk about that.”
Still, the ad could cost her primary voters and hurt her future in local Republican politics if she doesn’t win the primary.
“Leonard Lance has a good reputation in that district. If they don’t overcome the positives, then the attack can backfire,” said Murray. “We’ve definitely had this seen in many cases where the attacker is seen in the negative light, and there’s a strong possibility of this being the case in this election.”
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, who backs former Hatfield for the nomination, agreed, and added some humor.
“Generally speaking, in today’s world, Republicans who attack other Republicans, I don’t think that’s good, and I don’t think that helps you in terms of your future endeavors,” he said. “In my judgment, attacking Leonard lance is like attacking apple pie, the flag and mom.”
But despite being the scion of a family whose political influence goes back a century, Whitman said that from the day Lance entered the race, he was the establishment’s pick. She’s not worried about alienating a group that’s not behind her to begin with.
“From the beginning they were behind Leonard because of what they say – because it’s his turn. Frankly, I don’t buy that,” she said. “He’s had his chance to lead, he has not led and it’s time for someone new.”
Marks, who’s staked out a place well to the right of any other candidates, is happy to let Lance and Whitman duke it out while he tries to shore up his conservative base. But he said that Whitman and Lance’s “tired old names” – a reference to their political lineage (Lance’s father and great uncle both served in the legislature) — are what got them to prominent positions.
“I’m pleased that Leonard Lance and Kate Whitman – the two big name, establishment pedigree Republicans — are already starting to fight with each other,” he said. “I’m going to take the high road and I’m going to be successful.”
Marks said that his own internal polling shows him running neck-and-neck with Lance, who he concedes is the frontrunner, but only within the Republican establishment.
“Once you play all the positives and negatives for all the candidates and all is said and done, it’s a neck-and-neck race with Leonard Lance,” he said.
Hatfield said that she knows she’s not considered a frontrunner at this point, but has a strategy and enough money to propel her through the primary.
“I have a plan and I’ll have the money to fund it — to increase my name ID, get my message to the voters,” she said.