BRIDGEWATER – The Revolutionary War soldier with the saber at his belt stood in the command position as gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan emerged from his SUV at the Green Village Fire House.
The pair went inside, where 70 supporters rose to their feet and applauded the movement conservative candidate for governor and his wife, who made a rare appearance at his side this evening.
The soldier removed his tricorn hat.
"Hi, Manly," another supporter said in acknowledgement of the costumed newcomer, a blogger and self-described unreconstructed Reaganite who travels the Lonegan campaign circuit with the nom de plume Col. Manly Rash.
The applause didn't die, meanwhile, for the man at the front of the room.
"Don't hold back," Lonegan told the crowd after receiving the microphone from local organizer John DiMarco. "Feel free to explode. We need energy."
Hemade the classic trickle-downargument for his flat tax. New Jersey needs to have a private sector stimulus similiar to the one employed by Pennsylvania, he said.
"My opponent has done nothing but attack the flat tax," said Lonegan, who argued that the average family of four in Somerset County – one of the wealthiest counties in the country – would see a tax cut of $7,000 annually under the provisions of his economic plan.
A couple earning $70,000 would receive a $500 tax increase under Lonegan's plan, he admitted, but he would create the enticement for upper income earners to invest in New Jersey and create more wealth, and greater opportunity for incomeadvancement. As governor, he said he would stimulate an environmentforpeople "who want to build the businesses and buy our cars and buy our boats" and create jobs and business expansion in the process.
Lonegan received solid turnout from impassioned followers at his statewide Sunday events. Like Chris Christie, his chief opponent in the GOP primary, the underdogbegan the day in South Jersey and worked his way north. Sixty people joined him at a Flemington ice cream stand at the stop previous to the one here.
"The Christie people can have their party bosses, we've got the grassroots," said Laurie Galan of Rahway, Union County campaign captain, who traveled with Lonegan all weekend.
"We've got the energy and grassroots organization and we're going to create a political earthquake on Tuesday," said John Poirer, an attorney from Montgomery who's challenging establishment incumbent Republicans Assemblyman Pete Biondi (R-Hillsborough) and Assemblywoman Denise Coyle (R-Bernards) as part of Lonegan's campaign movement.
Clinging to the southern side of Route 22stand or semi-standthe crumbled vestiges of this county's manufacturing era, embodied by last-stand blue collar immigrant strongholds like Manville, Bound Brookand Raritan.Thecounty's northern reachescontain the horse farm and croquet culture of some of New Jersey most blue-blooded large-acrespreads.
Bridgewaterprovides the big, jagged buffer between those two worlds.
A sprawling central Jersey spillzone where therustic town welcome signsticks in the ground next toan on-ramp leading to the stretch of highway straight to the mall, this town of 49,000recordsSomerset County's largest number of registered Republicans: 7,031, compared to Bernards with 6,723 and Hillsborough with 5,056.
Viruently against government handouts for undocumented workers, Lonegan made sure people here knew he personally comes from an immigrant base – raised by his Italian-immigrant grandparents.
But immigrants shouldn't be in America for entitlements, he said. They should be here to work hard. In that tradition, he promised to be a governor so devoted to saving taxpayer dollars that he would fix the boiler himself at the governor's mansion should it everrequire attention during his tenure.
For now, he wants to win.
"I will not back off in this primary and I will not back off in this general election," Lonegan told the crowd before engaging in a long question and answer session. "I cannot wait for the day to debate Jon Corzine, and I will not rest and I will not settle for anything less than New Jersey being the number one place in America to build a business."
Standing with his tricorn hat tucked under his arm, Col. Manly Rash said, "I have a strangely optimistic feeling," just before the people emptied their seats in a standing ovation for Lonegan.