ISELIN — If only third graders could vote.
Talking to PolitickerNJ.com before addressing a group of senior citizens with State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge), Stender said that ads run waged by her opponent and the third party groups that support him — rhyming her last name with "Spender," "truth bender" or putting anti-Stender lyrics to the tune of Yankee Doodle — are insulting to the voters of the 7th Congressional District.
"I'm very popular amongst the third grade set because of the nursery rhyme nature of the campaign that's been run. The kids are always happy to see me, because they know the ads," she said.
Stender's ads against State Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Flemington) have been primarily negative, drawing parallels Lance to President Bush. She prefers the word "comparative."
"I think we've been very comparative in our campaign – the differences, and the fact that we believe that this district simply cannot tolerate a future like the last eight years, and that Leonard Lance is going to be more of the same," she said. "What's kind of interesting to me is that when I'm out at the train station, the things I hear from people is that they comment on the negative ads that have been run against me, and the nursery rhymes, and the fact that it's recycled, and that they tried it two years ago."
Stender's race is too close to call. The only recent independent poll taken shows it neck-and-neck. For what it's worth, Lance has racked up all of the newspaper endorsements made so far in the district, even though Stender won over the editorial boards in her fight against U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson last year.
Stender suggested that may be because the press loves the underdog. And Lance, at least in terms of campaign funds — $1.2 million raised this campaign cycle (much of which went towards a primary, which Stender didn't have to fight) to Stender's $2.39 million. As of October 15th, however, they were close in the amount each had on hand — $304,481 for Stender, and $274,817 for Lance, who still has $122,486 in campaign debt.
"I think he's been the underdog in this race, which is kind of funny because of the way the district is drawn. This is, after all, a Republican district," she said. "I think that endorsements don't vote, just like signs don't vote."
So Stender took the opportunity today to talk to about 60 seniors about a senior citizen rent control bill that Lance voted against in the Senate in a party-line vote.
"Who are we going to take care of? Do we take care of our most vulnerable, our seniors, our children? That's not what's been happened in the last eight years," Stender told the gathering. "On this issues, it shows a big difference between me and my opponent, where he would turn his back on you. "
The bill, which was sponsored in the Assembly by former Assemblyman Neil Cohen before his sudden resignation, has not yet passed in that body.
Update: Lance Campaign Manager Amanda Woloshen issued the following response: