Political observers knew it was coming, but maybe not so blatantly. Democratic Senate primary challenger Rep. Rob Andrews has hit incumbent Frank Lautenberg, 84, directly on his age.
In the Democratic Senate race so far, Andrews has couched the sticky issue of Lautenberg’s age in other language, using terminology like “energy” and lamenting what he called Lautenberg’s “stale, tired, old politics.”
But with two weeks to go before primary day, a new television ad from the Andrews camp skips the euphemisms altogether.
The 30-second spot begins by mentioning Lautenberg’s 1982 campaign against Millicent Fenwick, who was 72 at the time. Lautenberg was 58, and made Fenwick’s senior citizen status an issue. The ad called the race “one of the low points in New Jersey political history” and insinuates that Lautenberg holds a double standard with men and women with regard to their age.
“Using not so veiled language, Lautenberg actually says it’s ok for a man to make fun of a woman’s age,” said the announcer’s voice on the ad. “Now Lautenberg will be 91 at the end of his term. Ninety-one. Newspapers have said it’s time for a change. It’s hard when your own words come back to haunt you, isn’t it, Mr. Lautenberg?”
If he wins reelection, Lautenberg, whose birthday is January 23rd, will actually be three weeks shy of his 91st birthday by the time his next term is up.
Most of the ad showed a picture of the 58-year-old Lautenberg next to a photograph of Fenwick, but at the end replaced it with a more recent photograph of the Senator.
The age issue could be a vulnerability for Lautenbreg, with recent polls from Rutgers University and Quinnipiac University showing that a majority of voters think he’s too old to run again. A Monmouth University poll, however, found that voters did not think Lautenberg was too old, and a recent Bergen Record poll said the same.
The Record poll put Lautenberg’s support at 49% to Andrews’s 19%, while Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello, who’s running a long-shot campaign for the nomination, garnered 7% support.
So far, Andrews and Lautenberg have each put out two advertisements: one positive, and one negative. Lautenberg’s negative ad hit on the consistent theme of his campaign: tying Andrews to his help writing the Iraq War Resolution, and noting his support for the Bush Administration’s policies on the conflict until 2005.
Just yesterday, Lautenberg’s campaign put out a press release highlighting Andrews’s statements in the run up to the war and very recent statements in a Gannett News Service article where he said “"I think I made the right decision.” The press release also noted that Andrews told the Star-Ledger last month that age wouldn’t be a focus of his campaign.
Another Lautenberg press release went on to tie Andrews to Bush on economic policies, noting his support for the repeal of the Estate Tax in 2001.
Lautenberg spokeswoman Julie Roginsky took offense what she said was implied sexism in the ad.
"Rob Andrews has shown contempt for the truth and contempt for New Jersey's women. Andrews’s ad is false and desperate, and it is offensive that Andrews' expects that women will buy into his outlandish, old politics attack using age and gender to divide,” she said. “Rob Andrews' record on voting with Gingrich to cut schools lunches and working with Bush to mislead us into war is indefensible- so all he can do is get in the gutter. Andrews can't talk about issues so he'll lie about Frank Lautenberg.”
Although the Andrews camp did not provide any quotes of Lautenberg making sexist remarks in the 1982 campaign, they referred to a blog by Star-Ledger columnist Kathleen O’Brien. O’Brien said that Lautenberg was “profoundly sexist” because he considered 72 too old for a woman to be elected to the Senate in his first race, but at 84 considers himself fit for office.”
“This script was actually drafted by Frank Lautenberg in 1982. You could say he was our ghost writer,” said Andrews campaign Chairman Michael Murphy. “Frank Lautenberg’s attacks on Mrs. Fenwick’s age, character and gender were mean-spirited, and now 26 years later he’s being reminded of how he conducted his first US Senate campaign,”