In District 2, GOP freshmen launch re-election bid as Democrats recruit challengers

Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Township) felt the target slapped on his forehead by Democrats the day after he was elected in the 2nd Legislative District in 2007.

"They'll start spending a fortune and putting us on network TV – more of the same as what we saw in 2007," he said.

Yesterday, Polistina and his running mate, Assemblyman John Amodeo (R-Margate) kicked off their reelection campaign at a firehouse in Egg Harbor Township. Just as Republicans will likely sink many of their limited resources into recapturing assembly seats in neighboring District 1, Democrats are expected to pour considerable funds into this Atlantic County dominated district, where state Sen. James Whelan (D-Atlantic City) pulled off a solid victory over Republican Sonny McCullough in 2007, but didn't pull his running mates, Joe Wilkins and Blondell Spellman, across the finish line.

Polistina said that he's been made to feel unwelcome by Democrats in Trenton, and said that his reception by the party in power has been a disappointing experience.

"Thy don't want us there, they don't want to talk to us if they don't have to, and they would like nothing more than to get us out of the General Assembly," he said.

But Polistina and Amodeo think that their legislation meant to keep casinos open in the event of a government budget shutdown and a bill seeking to suspend 2.5% COAH development fee (on which Gov. Corzine is now calling for a moratorium) – even though never posted — will be among the factors that keep him in good stead with the district's voters.

Amodeo said that the two put together a team of experienced staff from retired and defeated legislators – Jack Gibson, Sonny McCullough and Nick Asselta – that allowed them to start off with good constituent services. He also credited his and Polistina's occupational backgrounds with creating a ticket in tune with their constituency.

"Vince is a young man, he's very bright and has a really good sense politically and has a really good feel for the regulations being a planner and engineer, and doing that kind of work understands the regulatory process of what we have in Trenton," he said. "And on my end, coming from the blue collar side, working in the construction industry and having a lot of friends in the casino industry, I think we have a lot from the blue collar workers.

Even though the 2nd will likely be one of the most targeted legislative districts in the state, Democrats are keeping their recruitment efforts close to the vest.

Four names surface as potential contenders for the seat, although there remain several potential candidates who, even off the record, Democratic sources don't yet feel comfortable revealing.

Atlantic City Councilman G. Bruce Ward, who represents the city's First Ward and introduced the controversial and high profile casino smoking ban last march, is one of the Democrats' top prospects. Ward could not immediately be reached for comment.

Freeholder Alisa Cooper, who is recovering from knee surgery, acknowledged that she remains interested in the prospect of running, but still has not made up her mind.

"I'm still considering it. There's nothing definite. I've spoken to leadership in the party as well as a lot of the party leaders, and it would be a natural progression," said Cooper, whose mother, Delores, went from being a Republican Atlantic County freeholder to an assemblywoman, serving in Trenton from 1982 to 1992.

"Quite honestly I would love to follow in my mother's footsteps at some time. Whether it's 2009 or 2011 I'm not sure," said Cooper.

Other names mentioned include Rev. Reginald Floyd, a member of the State Advisory

Committee on Police Standards, Chief Public Defender in Atlantic City and a promoter of Nubian health products; and former Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz.

In District 2, GOP freshmen launch re-election bid as Democrats recruit challengers