SOMERVILLE – Some Republicans at the outset complained that the 7th Congressional District GOP primary had the makings of a croquet contest between two patrician family names.
But in the case of the Lances versus the Whitmans, it just got very ugly.
Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) and his allies today repudiated a bludgeoning television attack launched against the veteran state senator this week on FOX television by rival Kate Whitman. In the ad, the Whitman campaign contends that Lance, a former senate minority leader, "had his chance" and "failed."
"Property taxes are up 103%, spending is up 124%," from the time Lance became a legislator, said Whitman, daughter of former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman.
Even as Lance prepared to meet the TV attack at a press conference in front of the Somerset County Courthouse on Wednesday, Whitman peppered him again from the vantage point of a Statehouse presser in Trenton, this time with a new issue.
"Publicly available campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and released yesterday document that sitting State Senator Leonard Lance is helping fund his campaign for Congress with contributions from New Jersey government contractors and state government lobbyists," said Whitman.
The candidate identified as Lance contributors principles from Remington & Vernick, Joseph Jingoli & Sons, DeCotiis Fitzpatrick, and McCarter & English, "which last year held over $29.3 million, $12 million, $9.75 million, and $3.1 million, respectively, in government contracts statewide," according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Whitman urged Lance to either drop out of the race or return the money.
Lance refused, and hit back.
"I’m outraged," he said.
Standing in front of the County Courthouse with Assemblyman Pete Biondi (R-Somerset), Assemblywoman Denise Coyle (R-Somerset) and other elected officials, and armed with public statements of support from Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Union), Sen. Kip Bateman (R-Somerset) and the Somerset County Republican Organization, Lance condemned both the ad and the Whitman press conference.
"This is a shocking, negative and untrue cable TV ad," said Lance, his party’s frontrunner after beating Whitman in Whitman’s home county last month to secure the Somerset County Republican Party line. The senator said he first became aware of the ad when supporters called his campaign on Monday night.
Lance said he voted against Gov. Jim Florio’s sales tax, supported Gov. Whitman’s efforts to reduce the state income tax, voted against his own party during the 1997 pension bond issue, fought Gov. Jim McGreevey’s income tax hike and successfully sued McGreevey to stop the governor’s illegal borrowing, and voted against the last six state budgets.
"I have an impeccable record of fiscal conservatism," Lance said. "I am the one candidate in the race who has a direct record of fiscal conservatism in contrast with (Democratic candidate) Linda Stender."
Regarding his rival’s charge that he has taken money from lobbyists within the legal framework of what Whitman describes as New Jersey’s "very weak" anti-pay to play laws, Lance said, "Members of the Legislature do not award contracts, and lobbyists have contributed to her campaign."
Whitman boasted about her fund-raising compared to Lance’s and called his press release about amassing nearly $300,000 for a primary run "disingenuous," in light of the fact that Lance loaned his own campaign $100,000.
Returning fire, Lance’s campaign spokesperson, Amanda Woloshen, called Whitman’s statements "desperate," and Biondi at Lance’s press conference echoed the sentiment.
"Look, we had a convention and all of the candidates came before us," said the veteran GOP assemblyman from Somerville. "We voted, and Leonard was a clear, 2-1 winner. Now if some people aren’t going to rally around Leonard they should at least run a clean campaign. But this ad of hers is a new low in Somerset County. Unheard of."
A statement issued by the Somerset County Republican Organization read in part, "This type of campaign cannot and will not be tolerated, whether from a member of our own committee or our endorsed candidate. We expect better from our candidates for Congress. We call on the Whitman for Congress campaign to pull these ads and return the debate to the level of discourse to which we as Republicans expect from our own."
Whitman refused, saying she stands by the ad.
"It’s fact-based," her spokesman, Anthony Attanasio said. "You can’t run on your record and expect voters are going to take your word for it. The ad states fact. This is nothing personal against the senator. But the affordability crisis in this state has continued to spiral out of control."