Lance and Zimmer rally in Union County

KENILWORTH — Talk about a study in contrast.

Yesterday, Democrats attracted about 1,500 people to Union County College in Cranford to hear former President Bill Clinton stump for Assemblywoman Linda Stender’s (D-Fanwood) congressional bid.

Tonight, despite pitchers of free beer, the Union County Republicans attracted about 100 people to Kenilworth’s VFW hall to support Stender’s rival, state Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Flemington), and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dick Zimmer.

Yesterday, Clinton was Stender’s main draw. Tonight, Union County Republican Chairman Phil Morin donned a mask of Clinton, called himself “Phil Clinton” and endorsed Lance.

“If anybody wants to join me, I’ll be at the Hooters on Route 22,” he said.

Lance, Zimmer and two of the local long-shot freeholder candidates provided the more serious speeches tonight.

Lance, for his part, mentioned that he’s campaigned in every one of Union County’s towns – including the heavily Democratic ones that keep this county solidly in that party’s column.

Lance said that he would continue the tradition of outgoing U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-Warren) and former U.S. Rep. Bob Franks.

“To be specific just briefly: fiscal responsibility. I do not believe we should be raising taxes anywhere in America, particularly given the economic downturn. I believe we have a moral responsibility to the next generation… to make sure we try to balance our federal budget,” he said.

No mention was made of Stender during Lance’s speech, but he did proudly proclaim his political affiliation, which is sometimes not mentioned in his campaign ads. Nor did Lance invoke President Bush, who to Democrats’ glee came into New Jersey to raise money for him and fellow Congressional candidate Chris Myers. Instead, he went back a bit further.

“On Tuesday evening, together we march forward… in the views that we share – views that make us Republicans,” he said. “Views that go back to the time of Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, who said in 1862 — words that are still true today — that America is mankind’s last and best hope on earth. And it’s in that tradition that I run for Congress.”

After Lance, Zimmer took the stage. He sought to make the beleaguered Union County Republicans proud, even if it reminded them of how long it’s been since New Jersey Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat. He noted that the state’s last Republican U.S. Senator, Clifford P. Case, was a Union County native. Case’s last re-election was in 1972.

Zimmer then went into his usual stump speech about how much money New Jersey gives to the federal government versus how much it gets back, arguing that his opponent, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, is a loser in the “pork barrel game.”

He did, however, add a couple sharp barbs about rumors surrounding Lautenberg’s primary residence, which the senator claims as a Cliffside Park condo but critics argue is really his wife’s Manhattan apartment. At one point, he said that “whether [Lautenberg’s] home is in New Jersey is questionable,” and shortly later, referring to the beneficiaries of the bailout package, mentioned that much of the money was going to neighbors of “Frank Lautenberg’s principle residence on Park Avenue.”

Lautenberg spokeswoman Julie Roginsky disputed Zimmer’s claims.

“Frank Lautenberg’s been living in New Jersey all his life except when he was wearing our nation’s uniform at war,” she said. “And I guess Dick Zimmer’s Hail Mary pass is another sign of the desperation he’s shown throughout the campaign.”

Lance and Zimmer rally in Union County