It's a tough race for Jim McSorley, the Republican running for sheriff of Mercer County against incumbent Democrat Kevin Larkin.
Not only is it looking to be a strongly Democratic year in New Jersey, let alone in Democrat-dominated Mercer County, but during periods of previous decades when Republicans controlled the county, the sheriff was still a Democrat.
In fact, nobody seems to be able to recall the last time Mercer County elected a Republican sheriff. McSorley said it's been at least for duration of his own life – 52 years.
"I tell people I intend to be the first one, at least in most of our lifetimes," said McSorley, a former state police captain who most recently worked as U.S. Rep. Chris Smith's policy director.
But as much as a long shot as the odds may make him, nobody accuses McSorley of running a lackadaisical campaign.
Take last night at a candidate forum at the Trenton Council of Civic Associations. The Republicans McSorley shares a ticket with – Freeholder candidates Cindy Randazzo and Tom White – couldn't make it (White due to a broken leg and Randazzo due to a family emergency). So it was just McSorley, trying to hold his own against Larkin and the three Democratic freeholders.
Despite being outnumbered and from a party those only fielded candidates for two out of three freeholder spots, McSorley said that he drew a stark contrast between himself and Larkin.
"Sheriff Larkin has no vision, and he's really hoping that the machine pushes him across the finish line. He's not campaigning, because every time he goes out into a situation, the issues of this double dipping come up," said McSorley That's a relevant issue, because when you sign up to be a sheriff, you don't sign up to one at your leisure."
The double dipping McSorley refers to: Larkin's other job as a security guard at an apartment complex, which he works two days a week. McSorley notes that, when Larkin performs his second job on weekdays, he leaves work at 4:00 – before the county's courts even close. Moreover, he said, moonlighting as a security guard at an apartment complex and the occasional job at a Point Pleasant Tiki Bar denigrates the office of sheriff.
More than anything, McSorley has criticized Larkin on his record keeping. He doesn't believe the hours that Larkin says he works, and argues that a more efficient time keeping method known as an electronic daily system could clear that up. The state police have one, he said. Why can't the sheriff's office?
"A least that way the taxpayer and the person can see what he did," said McSorley.
Meanwhile, in the absence of the system, McSorley has put in OPRA requests for hundreds if not thousands of pages of records from the sheriff's office, for which Mercer County Democratic Chairman Rich McClellan has dubbed him "Inspector Clouseau."
"I kind of wear that with a badge of honor," said McSorley. "Inspector Clouseau always wins in the end of every movie."
But Mercer Democratic Chairman Richard McClellan said that McSorley's unending investigations of Larkin, while not pleasant, are actually good for the incumbent.
"McSorley is spending too much time following the sheriff around instead of doing his campaigning. If I was him, I'd be advising him to start knocking on doors instead of following the sheriff. While that's annoying, it's good for us, since he's not talking to voters," he said.
McClellan said that his own party's canvassing shows that Larkin is in a position to easily win the race.
Larkin, for his part, prefers not to hit back at McSorley, saying that he only wants to run a positive campaign. His office, he notes, was the first to meet the State Supreme Court's new guidelines on court security, and that Mercer is the number one county in the state for Project Lifesaver bracelets for senior citizens.
Larkin denies McSorley's charge that he ever worked as a bouncer at tiki bar down the shore, saying he was helping out a friend with making sure no underage drinkers came in, and that he only did it twice this year and "a couple times" last year. And he denies that his work at the apartment complex is having any impact on his job.
"I work across the street. If there's a problem, I can always come over and I can always leave when I have to," he said.
But McSorley accuses Larkin of "hiding behind" programs like Project Lifesaver, which he said the Sheriff is taking too much credit for.
"When people are defensive, they say they're running a positive campaign. It's because they're trying to hide something – trying to ride the game out, push him over the finish line," said McSorley. "His only qualification is that he's a Democrat."