Regardless of whether the Burlington and Ocean County Republican organizations go to war in the 3rd Congressional district, there will be a primary.
Justin Murphy, a former committeeman from Tabernacle Township in Burlington County who had a surprisingly strong showing in the 2008 primary, says he will definitely run again. And he’s not cowed by Jon Runyan, the football star who the Burlington County GOP has recruited and already rolled out to seek the party nod to challenge U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill).
“Two words come to mind: Lynn Swann,” said Murphy, referring to the football hall-of-famer who ran as a Republican against Democrat Ed Rendell in the 2006 Pennsylvania governor’s race. He wound up losing by 20 points.
“He was a good looking candidate, gave a good first impression, had some money, but was a disaster. That was an embarrassing double digit loss for the Republicans,” said Murphy.
Right now, Murphy and Runyan are the only declared Republican candidates in the 3rd Congressional District. It remains to be seen whether the powerful Ocean County Republicans – buoyed by producing a 70,000 vote plurality for Gov.-elect Christopher Christie on Election Day – will run a candidate, although Toms River Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill is seeking their support and says he will run if he gets it.
That support hinges almost entirely on county Republican Chairman George Gilmore.
But Murphy’s single point finish behind Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly last year – despite spending less than $9,000 — was based largely on the strength of an anti-Gilmore, anti-organization group of Republicans called the Traditional Republicans of Ocean County (TROOC). The group included Murphy on its full slate of county candidates who ran with Senate candidate Murray Sabrin at the top of the ticket. In Ocean County, Murphy cut into Kelly’s margin of victory, getting 30% of the vote and keeping Kelly to only 44%, allowing the eventual winner, Chris Myers, to bury Kelly in Burlington County.
The TROOC’s showing last June was not as strong, owing to Christie heading the establishment party’s ticket, according to the group’s chairman, Joseph Haelig.
Haelig said that he does not know whether his group will support Murphy again, since it’s unclear exactly who is running.
“It’s still up in the air. Until that becomes clear, who knows what’s going to happen?” he said.
In case Ocean County does not field a candidate and Runyan becomes the establishment-backed favorite, Murphy thinks being pro-choice will bring the former Eagles tackle down.
“If the scenario unfolds where Jon Runyan faces Justin Murphy for the nomination, I can guarantee you I will be the nominee,” said Murphy. “I’m not trying to be a trash talker on that. I can tell you why in one word: abortion. If there is a choice between one pro-choice candidate and one pro-life candidate in this election, the base of the party will support me.”
Burlington County GOP Chairman Bill Layton argued that the abortion issue won’t be a deal breaker with Republican primary voters.
“I think people are concerned about jobs, getting back to work and taxes. The pro-life thing does play in primaries, but Jon Runyan is not for federal funding of abortions. He’s a pro-choice candidate, but with a lot of restrictions,” he said.
As for Murphy’s strong showing last time around?
“I think what happened was Justin kind of got a free ride. He got hooked up with TROOC. He was able to capitalize on that, and if you notice his numbers in Burlington County, he was nowhere,” said Layton.