On the 6th day, Zimmer launches his Senate campaign

Coming late to the U.S. Senate race, political veteran Dick Zimmer formally kicked off his candidacy at the state house today.

“Welcome to day six of the Zimmer for Congress campaign,” he said.

Zimmer, who served three terms in the House between 1991 and 1997, emphasized his fiscal conservatism, arguing that he’s the man to represent New Jersey in troubling economic times. He also echoed former Senate candidate Anne Estabrook in a call to improve New Jersey’s standing in terms of how much money it gets back from the federal government versus how much it puts in. (New Jersey currently ranks dead last among all the states.)

The announcement came on the tail of a stinging loss for Zimmer in his native Hunterdon County. Local Republicans there held a re-do vote last night to consider switching the party’s preference from rival Joe Pennacchio – who they had awarded the county line to in February – to Zimmer.

Zimmer acknowledged that he was surprised that the Hunterdon County Republicans voted 34-30 to keep Pennacchio on the line, but he said that no harbinger of bad fortune for his fledgling campaign. He noted that two committee members who voted for Pennacchio at the convention told him that they planned to vote for Zimmer in the primary.

Zimmer said that he still expects to win Hunterdon in the primary by a “very large margin.”

“This was an issue about keeping their commitment that they made personally to Joe to endorse him, and they felt that just because there was another vote that they weren’t going to change their commitment,” he said. “They looked him in the eye and said they were going to vote for him and they did. In Hunterdon County, I guess they don’t like re-dos.”

Facing a legal challenge

It also came as the Pennacchio campaign mounts a legal challenge that could, if successful, effectively end Zimmer’s candidacy, along with accusing the campaign of “thuggery.”

The validity of Zimmer’s candidacy hinges on whether a Superior Court judge in Mercer County deems that the candidacy he inherited from Goya heir Andy Unanue as legitimate. Subpoenas were issued yesterday, and Zimmer received one of them last night.

Pennacchio’s campaign charges that Unanue was essentially a placeholder candidate by the time he filed on April 7, meaning that his oath of candidacy was not made “in good faith.” They further charge that Unanue signed a form declaring that he was a legal resident of New Jersey, although he lives in New York City.

“Our point is that he wasn’t a resident or legal voter and he signed it,” said Pennacchio campaign manager Dan Gallic.

Gallic also charges that attorney Mark Sheridan, who he says works for Zimmer, threatened to charge Gallic with practicing law without a license because he originally filed the complaint “pro-se” – meaning that Gallic intended to represent himself. Gallic said that he only did so because they were having a hard time finding counsel to take on the case and have since assigned it to a lawyer.

Zimmer today said he expects the complaint to be dismissed quickly and said he had no knowledge of Sheridan’s alleged threat.

Sheridan, Zimmer said, represents former Senate candidate Andy Unanue’s “committee on vacancies,” which picked Zimmer as Unanue’s replacement but is not affiliated with the Zimmer campaign.

“Mr. Unanue, as I understand it, filed an affidavit saying he was a sincere candidate. He did intend to run. And unless they have someone with telepathic powers at their disposal as a witness, they’re going to dismiss it,” said Zimmer. “Mark Sheridan is representing the vacancy committee on the Unanue campaign. I’m not a party to this case.”

Getting his campaign moving

Since he only got into the race last week, Zimmer has a lot of ground to make up for in fundraising, and said he’s already began reaching out to friends and donors.

“It’s certainly a challenge to raise a lot of money to get ready for an expensive state like New Jersey,” said Zimmer. “I have a great amount of optimism that we’re going to get what we need to win the general election.”

Pennacchio has raised $361,710 for his U.S. Senate candidacy so far, and Murray Sabrin has raised about the same amount.

Zimmer raised $8 million in his 1996 Senate race against Bob Toricelli, which would have been a record, Zimmer said, had Toricelli not out-raised him by $1 million.

That 1996 race was perhaps the most negative campaign in state history – on both sides. And while Zimmer has said repeatedly that he hopes voters will judge him based on the campaign he runs this time around, he made no apologies for any allegations he made against Toricelli back then.

“If you look back at everything that’s said about my opponent, Bob Toricelli, it was true,” he said. “And given what’s happened to him … Well, I’ll leave it there.”

Where he stands

Zimmer spent much of the press conference emphasizing his opposition to earmarks and the similarities to presidential candidate John McCain on the matter (Zimmer is a McCain delegate). He was even introduced by state Sen. Bill Baroni as a “taxpayer superhero” – a label that was given to Zimmer during his time in Congress by the taxpayer advocate group Citizens Against Government Waste.

On Iraq, Zimmer noted that both of the high profile challengers on the other side of the aisle – Frank Lautenberg and Rob Andrews – had either voted for the war resolution or expressed support while campaigning.

“I would expect to be running against two Democrats who endorsed the resolution – one voted for it and the other unequivocally endorsed it,” he said. “So in my mind the appropriate question is where we go from here.”

But when challenged by reporters about his position on Iraq during the run up to the war in 2002, Zimmer admitted that he did support it. However, he noted that he only had as much information to go on as any other civilian. Had he been in office, he said, he would have weighed the decision more carefully.

“What I felt was that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous leader, as I was reading in the newspapers that had weapons of mass destruction and had already invaded his neighbors,” he said. “But as a Congressman or a Senator, I would have had to thoroughly look into this before I decided to send troops in harms way.”

On the 6th day, Zimmer launches his Senate campaign