As 3rd Congressional District Republican congressional candidates Jack Kelly and Chris Myers hurl accusations of patronage and pay-to-play at each other, unopposed Democrat John Adler has been practicing uncontroversial retail politics: going door-to-door, standing with a veterans group and accepting an environmental endorsement.
While a crowded field of Republican candidates fights tooth and nail for that party's nomination in the 7th Congressional District – with the two highest profile candidates spending a good amount of time arguing over negative advertising – unopposed Democrat Linda Stender has been shoring up support at local Democratic events.
Both Democrats are running for open congressional seats that have been in Republican hands for years. During this particularly eventful Republican primary season, Adler and Stender have been able to sit on growing piles of cash as their GOP counterparts conduct opposition research that the Democrats could be able to use in the run up to the November general election – especially in the 3rd District.
"You've got two Republican cannibalizing each other. It's great," said one Democratic insider who didn't want his name used.
Adler has over $1 million in his war chest – the largest for any open seat challenger in the country, according to Congressional Quarterly. His opponents expect to spend under $500,000 for their primary election, at which point they'll have to start raising money again. Stender is the fourth richest challenger, and faces one of seven GOP challengers – the richest of who, Kate Whitman, had $307,000 cash-on-hand as of April 15.
Adler Campaign Manager Raiyan Syed wouldn't acknowledge that his candidate is enjoying watching the Myers/Kelly death match, or that he even expects to benefit from it. Instead, he gave a generic critique of the Republicans' campaign style.
"It's the same old Washington-style campaigns that the people are tired of," he said. "John Adler is out talking to voters, he's meeting with veterans groups, teachers, small business owners."
The Democratic candidates have thrown a few punches at their eventual opponents. While Adler has stayed out of the fray so far, his allies have been dispatched to hit Myers for his connections to Burlington County political figures and the county's ethically-troubled bridge commission. Burlington County Democratic Chairman Rick Perr has been the attack dog on that front.
But the Republican-on-Republican attacks have been far more frequent and more pronounced – with suggestions of looming lawsuits over a Kelly television commercial. The bickering continued today with Myers putting out a press release to complain about "desperate Kelly's" new campaign mailer that they alleged misrepresents an op-ed by his former boss at the SJTA that defends his work record there as the opinion of the Asbury Park Press.
Kelly calls Myers, a Lockheed Martin executive, "part of the culture of corruption in Washington," but said that he'll support the Republican nominee, whether it's himself, Myers or Justin Murphy.
Kelly didn't say whether his attacks on Myers would keep his own primary supporters from voting for Myers in a general election.
At a press conference last week where he attacked Kelly for his SJTA position, Myers also said that he doesn't think his campaign against Kelly is making Adler's job any easier.
It's logical that Republicans are running in this district without putting much thought toward the general election, said Ingrid Reed, director of the Eagleton Institute's New Jersey Project. This is a traditionally Republican district, so there's a feeling that whoever wins the primary will have a natural advantage in the general – even though they're almost certain to be out-raised by Adler.
But it is a risky strategy.
"I think what they risk is having a lot of voters just simply say, 'this isn't relevant to me'," said Reed. "So you're going to have the traditional Republicans taking sides on this very much on county allegiances, and they will have missed the opportunity of making a favorable impression on a larger set of voters."
The 7th District is tame compared to the third, but it has seen its share of flare-ups — mostly between Kate Whitman and State Sen. Leonard Lance. Also running are Dr. P. Kelly Hatfield, Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks, Iraq vet Tom Roughneen, Seton Hall business professor A.D. Amar and Darren Young.
It's also in a less strongly-Republican district than the third, where candidates have to run a primary election while looking towards the general.
"The fact that they are fighting amongst themselves, that they're in disarray and that there are seven in the race gives me the opportunity to focus on issues I believe are important and that people want to know about," said Stender.
But the primary candidates have targeted Linda Stender more often than the 3rd District candidates have hit Adler. Lance, for instance, held a press conference at the Fanwood Train Station to make his case against Stender on economic issues.
In a press release, Lance listed dozens of taxes that he voted against in Trenton while Stender voted yes. The purpose, Lance said, was not only to focus on the general election but to let Republicans know why he's the most capable of taking her on.
"I'm not sure I've been fighting with Kate Whitman. I've responded to her negative attacks. But I do believe that we have to focus on the general election as well as the primary," he said. "And I believe that I am the best candidate to be the republicans nominee because I have a voting record in Trenton, as does Assemblywoman Stender."