To the most hardened observer of New Jersey politics, the 3rd Congressional District race offers little more than the inevitable collision of two powerful forces in this conservative, military family values stronghold, which runs upto the edges of Democratic Partybulwark Camden County to the south.
It appears to be a classic case of military industrial complex versus party machine, as Republican Chris Myers, a $250,000-a-year earning Republican executive at Lockheed Martin, battles Harvard-educated career Trentonian state Sen. John Adler (D-Camden) for a seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R-Burlington).
Assembly Speaker – and Adler compatriot -Joe Roberts (D-Camden) argues that the only way South Jersey ever stood a chance of exerting influence statewide was to bind together.
They’ve been so successful of late, with state senate victories in Atlantic and Cape May counties last year, that more focused attacks on Burlington County to the north only looked like a matter of time.
So now here comes Adler.
In the face of the Burlco Bridge scandal, which splintered the Republican brand here, and an ongoing feud between state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) and GOP boss Glen Paulsen, the GOP kept itself intact in part by remaining alert to the potential of an encroachment by the South Jersey Democrats.
Nothing wakes the fighting mood of Burlington County Republicans like the specter of South Jersey boss George Norcross, Roberts and their allies on the horizon, which is precisely why Republicans hope Adler’s Congressional candidacy will bring the party faithful and then some to the barricade, to put down a Camden incursion into their territory.
On offense in a solid Republican district going back to the 19th century, the Adler campaign has attacked Myers mainly on two fronts. They’ve repeatedly reminded voters that their rival and fellow Republican George W. Bush share the same economic philosophy, and the same foreign policy. They’ve also noted Myers’s record of raising taxes as mayor of Medford and his poor attendance record.
Aside from trying to argue why their position is better than Myers on veterans’ benefits, making general economic arguments and restating a case against the Iraq War, they tread lightly onmatters military. It’sa sensitive topic here, where Myers can argue that he enjoys a decidededge.
Myers recounts his own Navy wartime service while proudly describing Lockheed’s development of missile systems that defend the country. The fact that Lockheed contributed $5,000 to his campaign barely trips an echo of Eisenhower’s warning about the military industrial complex. Home to Fort Dix/McGuire, the congressional districtis wartime proud, giving the Democratic Party no compelling reason to broach concerns about the specific influence of the military weapons giant.
Working with a lot less money, the Myers campaign has hammered steadily on a single theme: depicting Adler toiling in Trenton for years as little more than a boss-controlled machine product. Taxes rise. Spending soars. And through it all, the Republicans say, Adler drones dutifully in the service of a strengthening party organization that has statewide domination as its aim. Myers suggested as much at a summer press conference addressing new, Roberts-engineered Council on Affordable Housing regulations that, in his view, would mean an end to the suburban way of life in the 3rd District.
Myers equals Bush, says Adler.
Adler equals Trenton, says Myers.
The latter tries to tie New Jersey’s economic downturn to mismanagement at the Statehouse, while Adler heaps evidence on Myers, showing nationwide recession under Bush’s supply-side watch and $10 billion-a month war in Iraq.
News stories of a Trenton slush fund going back to the administration of then-Gov. Richard Codey give Myers a chance to render greater detail in his portrait of his opponent as an earmark-addled go-along-to-get-along career politician.
But Myers’s most high profile fundraiser was a Bush bash last month in Colts Neck in a cul-de-sac of McMansions that threatens to makethe medianend of the 3rd Congressional Districtresemble “Cannery Row.”
Adler’s big fundraising edge continues to enable him to batter his Republican opponent as more of the same.
In the end, the irony is neither Camden (only a small sliver of the district) nor Burlington will likely decide the 3rd District contest.
Most insiders say who wins Adler-Myers will come down to Ocean County, the other big piece of the district to balance Burlington, and whether the Republican Party there will deliver in a big way for Myers, who demolished their candidate in the primary.
Mild-mannered state Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) probably never gave anyone the impression that he was remotely connected to George W. Bush, the towel-snapping subject of Oliver Stone’s latest big screendocu-drama and lame duck occupant of the White House.
And yet, the two men inhabit the same party – and for the campaign of Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood), that’s connection enough.
Operating with considerable help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Stender campaign has kept Lance in a blender with Bush in a cable advertising campaign seemingly without end.
Initially sapped of funds after weathering a bitter primary campaign, Lance has tried to retaliate with four or five TV ads, which trot out the old “Stender is a spender” slogan U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-New Providence) used against the Democratic Assemblywoman in his nail-biter win over her two years ago. To that, Lance has stamped his own “Stender is a truth bender” take on his Democratic Party rival.
The New York Times and the three main New Jersey dailies in the Congressional district all endorsed Lance, who argues that he differs from Bush on the federal deficit (Lance is a self-described fiscal hawk), the environment (Lance is a proud environmentalist), and on abortion (he’s pro-choice).
The district leans Republican, although Stender just barely lost to Ferguson in 2006, forcing New Jersey’s youngest congressman to retire. The question now is whether the economic crisis has leached substantially enough into the 7th to render the GOP partido non grata, and whether the constant barrage of ads linking Lance to Bush will force a turn-the-page response from voters.
If he loses, his supporters could argue that the bipartisan-minded, self –described Eisenhower Republican Lance was just another unwitting victim of Bush backlash.
Even as they make no sustained attempt to link Lance to Bush on major issues, the Democrats apparently are confident in their argument that even those GOP legions farthest from Bush, Lance included, should pay a price, for backing such an irresponsible president, who once stood so proudly at the head of the Republicanranks.