With only $155,000 on hand, Medford Mayor Christopher Myers, is facing the most well-funded open seat challenger in the country: State Sen. John Adler, who has amassed a $1.9 war chest.
But a potentially huge pool of cash looms on the horizon for Myers. According to the latest Federal Election Commission filings, Jim Saxton, the retiring 12-term Republican incumbent, has a war chest of a little over $1 million.
Will Saxton help Myers, his protégé and close friend, level the playing field in a district the GOP has held since 1884?
"I can't talk about it. We can't have any coordination about where that money goes. We have a rule here that we just stay away," said Myers Campaign Manager Chris Russell, who referred questions about the money to Saxton.
Russell notes that much of Adler's primary advantage has to do with him being spared a primary challenge. He argues that Myers and Kelly split a donor base and raised a combined $1 million, which could have gone to Myers barring a primary.
Russell may not be able to talk about it, but Republicans in South Jersey are hopeful that Saxton will relinquish that cash in such a way that it can make its way to Myers's district, significantly diminishing Adler's huge fundraising lead.
A spokesman for Saxton said that he hasn't made any decisions on what to do with the money yet.
Saxton can't give the cash directly to Myers, as federal law prohibits him from giving more than $2,000 to any one candidate. And he can only give a maximum of $37,000 to each of the 3rd District's three Republican county committees — he's already given $25,000 to the county party in Camden, which has only one town in the district.
But Saxton does have the option of giving all his money to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the Republican National Committee (RNC) or the federal fundraising arm of the Republican State Committee (RSC). He wouldn't be able to tell them how to use it, so theoretically it could wind up spent anywhere in the country. But he could suggest that they use it to help defend this Republican seat by using it for independent expenditures in the expensive Philadelphia media market.
Still, for the most part, the recently released numbers are anemic for Republicans. State Sen. Leonard Lance still hasn't announced how much he raised last quarter, but it's expected to be dwarfed by Linda Stender's $1.2 million in cash.
Outgoing Rep. Mike Ferguson has about $215,000 left in the bank. Ferguson's campaign committee recently contributed to ten candidates across the country, according to Chris Jones, his chief of Staff.
"He's going to continue to do that and be an active supporter of our party organizations and local down ballot candidates running this year, and that will continue into next year too," he said.
Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said that the fundraising totals are indicative of the parties' enthusiasm. Democratic donors, buoyed by Barack Obama's candidacy, are optimistic about their chances both for U.S. Senate and in the two open congressional districts. Republicans, meanwhile, are holding their purse strings tight.
"Republican donors in New Jersey are savvy, so they're going to spend it where they think they can get bang for their buck. At the same time I think a lot of them are sitting this one out," said Murray. "I think a lot of them are either writing off this election and are going to regroup for 2010, or are going to hold back a little to see if any of these Republicans start doing better in polling."
Murray said that presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's decision to open a New Jersey office is meant to send a message to the state's voters that he plans to put it in play-giving them a return on their investment.
John Weingart, an associate director at the Eagleton Institute for New Jersey Politics who chairs the Highlands Council, said that Zimmer's Senate candidacy is tied in with John McCain's presidential candidacy.
"So much of his race depends on what happens with McCain. Whether New Jersey becomes competitive on a presidential level. Assuming it doesn't, he's a very long shot to win no matter how much money he has," he said.