GOP hopeful they can hold onto CD-7

FLEMINGTON — Facing a string of recent U.S. House special election wins for Democrats in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi and uncomfortable reminders of nearly losing New Jersey's 7th Congressional District in 2006, Republicans gathered at state Sen. Leonard Lance's primary election night victory party on Tuesday said they were confident that the GOP would be able to hold on to the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson in November.

"Demographics are destiny," state Assemblyman Michael Doherty (R-Washington) told at the American Legion hall in Flemington, in the heart of Lance's Hunterdon County base. Doherty said Democrat Linda Stender would have a difficult job capturing the reliably Republican congressional district, despite Stender's near defeat of Ferguson two years ago. The 7th district "was really drawn as a Republican district."

While Stender's 2006 finish – she lost by just more than 3,000 votes – plus this year's anticipated strong Democratic tide for congressional races nationwide might suggest a November win for the assemblywoman from Fanwood, state Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr. said the political calculus isn't that simple: "It's going to be a totally different campaign."

In a statement released late Tuesday highlighting her "commitment to bringing real change in Washington," Stender did not reference her opponent as she outlined her major campaign themes, including the Iraq war, affordable health care and global warming. "Over the course of the next five months, I look forward to having a very honest discussion about the real issues facing New Jersey families."

But as Stender looks forward, Kean said that voters will be able to directly compare Stender's record in Trenton with that of Lance, a fiscal conservative who has not only reached across the aisle, but has also challenged his own party from time to time. "They will have direct issues to compare. [Lance] has a good record to run on … of finding solutions," especially on fiscal responsibility and reducing national debt, which he has put at the forefront of his campaign.

That, plus U.S. Sen. John McCain leading the Republican presidential ticket, bodes well for Lance's chances, said Amanda Woloshen, the state senator's campaign manager. "I think John McCain is a great candidate for New Jersey."

Woloshen, who managed Ferguson's 2006 nail-biter re-election, wasn't dwelling on the near-loss two years ago. "Nationally, it was a low water mark," she said, adding that Lance is a fresh face for the 7th district. "The [fall] campaign starts tomorrow," Woloshen said, just as the last food was being carried out of the American Legion hall Tuesday night.

With the primary out the way, the fight to November begins and Lance said that he's carefully assessing the looming battle. "I take nothing for granted."

As Lance fought his way through a crowded primary field – including a bid by Kate Whitman, the daughter of former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman – Stender has been busy raising funds for the fall. Between April 1 and May 14, the most recent campaign finance reporting period, Stender raised $135,000 and had approximately $900,000 on hand. Lance, meanwhile, raised about $88,000. Including a $100,000 personal loan, the state senator has raised more than $384,000.

When asked if he would pump any additional personal funds into his campaign, Lance would only say: "I hope to be able to raise money from contributors."

Woloshen later said: "The money will be there."

Lance said his positions and principles are more important than money. "My views are the views of this congressional district." GOP hopeful they can hold onto CD-7