South Jersey Republicans seem genuinely excited that Jon Runyan, the 6'7, 330 lb. former Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle, is considering a bid for Congress against freshman Democrat John Adler next year. "Our great country is headed in the wrong direction, and it's clearer every day that career politicians are incapable of solving the problems we face," Runyan said in a statement released today.
Runyan greatest obstacle to winning the Republican nomination in District 3 could be Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore, who became the most powerful party leader in the state last week when Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie won Ocean County by 70,000 votes. Gilmore has been anxious to see an Ocean County candidate in the race; GOP sources say he might want State Sen. Christopher Connors (R-Lacey) to run.
Adler won the seat in 2008 after twelve-term Republican Jim Saxton (R-Mount Holly) retired. He beat Medford Mayor Christopher Myers 52%-48% to become the first Democrat to win the seat since 1884.
When another famous ex-football player, Jack Kemp, first ran for Congress in 1969, he told a reporter: "Pro football gave me a good sense of perspective to enter politics: I'd already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy." If Runyan wins, he would join former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, a North Carolina Democrat, in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Former professional athletes have a mixed record of success in New Jersey: former New York Knicks star Bill Bradley spent eighteen years as a U.S. Senator, but former Philadelphia Flyers player Brian Propp lost his bid for State Assembly in District 7 two years ago, and former tennis great Althea Gibson lost a Democratic primary for State Senator in 1977.