Ask Republicans about candidate recruitment in the 3rd Congressional District, where freshman U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) is expected to face a tough challenge to keep his seat, and you'll hear a long list of potential candidates.
Ask Democrats the same question in freshman U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance's (R-Clinton) 7th Congressional District, and you hear just a couple names.
One of them is Summit Mayor Jordan Glatt, who is considered a formidable potential candidate owing to his personal wealth and the fact that he's the first Democratic mayor in the history of his town, a Republican stronghold. But he's not interested.
"Quite honestly, I feel that Leonard Lance is doing a very good job. I know it's probably going to irk my Democratic colleagues, but he's a good man," he said. "I would have to have some passion about the person I'm running against."
Outgoing Edison Mayor Jun Choi is not interested either.
"I just got married and we're going to start a family, so personally it's not a good time," he said. "I'm flattered that people would consider me."
Fanwood Mayor colleen Mahr, however, did not rule out a run.
"I will say I thoroughly enjoy government and politics, and I plan on staying around," she said.
Political consultant Pat Politano – who works campaigns in Union County – said that there will be a major recruitment effort starting shortly.
"There will be efforts to find a candidate, but the reality is that democrats across the state knew we were in a tough election year and nobody has focused on that," he said, stressing the importance of unseating a congressman from a rival party in his first term.
"The likelihood of a member of the House of Representatives being beat in anything other than their first term is less than their likelihood of dying in office," he said. "If you don't get them in their first term, you usually don't get them."
Who to run against Lance will probably be a frequent topic of discussion at the League of Municipalities convention next week.
Still, in off-the-record conversations, many Democrats admit a deep respect for Lance, a pro-choice moderate policy wonk who, over a 17 year career in the state legislature, developed a pro-environment record and friendships in both parties. Late last year, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) said on the Senate floor that he privately told Lance he hoped he would win on election day and called him "the best candidate" – even though Lance had just beaten Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood), who, like Lesniak, is a Union County Democrat.
But aside from his amicable relations with top Democrats, several factors make unseating Lance a difficult prospect.
For one, mid-term elections typically mean losses for the incumbent president's party. Although forecasts differ on how bad 2010 will be for Democrats, the belief that they will lose seats is nearly universally held. That does not help with candidate recruitment in a traditionally Republican district, where a Democratic candidate only came close to unseating a Republican once – in 2006, when Stender narrowly lost to incumbent Mike Ferguson (R-Warren) in her first run for the office, during a nationwide anti-Republican wave.
As far as national support goes, it remains to be seen whether the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) will pour significant resources into the district when they have more seats to defend than in 2008. The DCCC has issued periodic press releases hitting Lance and other New Jersey Republicans for their votes against the stimulus and health care bills. The Democratic National Committee has also targeted Lance in press releases criticizing his vote against the health care reform bill.
And with New Jersey possibly losing a congressional seat after the next census is taken, some Democrats would rather see how redistricting shapes up before challenging Lance
There has been more talk about a challenge to Lance from the right than the left. His vote in favor of the cap and trade bill – together with two other New Jersey Republicans – brought forth threats of a primary from conservatives.
But the election of Republican Gov.-Elect Chris Christie put a damper on that talk.
"I think if Chris would have lost, it would be a free fall right now. There wouldn't necessarily be any leadership at the top. There would be a conservative faction and a moderate faction," said Union County GOP Chairman Phil Morin. "It's early to judge, but we certainly don't have that climate right now."
Assemblyman and state Sen.-Elect Michael Doherty (R-Washington Twp.) – among the most conservative legislators in the state – believes that Lance is safe.
"I have no intention of doing it or supporting anyone else to do it," said Doherty, who does not live in Lance's district but represents parts of it in the legislature. "In my opinion, Leonard Lance is not going to have a primary challenge."
But conservative political consultant Rick Shaftan disagreed.
"Lance will absolutely have a primary. He is the most likely to have one – he has no friends," said Shaftan. "People who will raise the kind of money that cap and trade is going to raise are people who aren't going to care what Chris Christie thinks… They're conservatives, and it's a question of the candidate raising money. If the candidate is aggressive, it won't make a difference what the political situation is."