The campaign trail contained its moments of would-be trauma for Jon Runyan of Medford.
The political neophyte went to a Tea party event at one point and a woman went up to him and demanded that he repudiate a photo of two gay men.
Used to saving his sense of outrage for the professional football field, the former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman declined.
In return, he got an earful.
Asked to pick a highlight from the trail in the hours before Election Day, he also declines.
“There’s not one thing that jumps out at me,” says the 3rd Congressional District candidate, running with the establishment backing against insurgent candidate Justin Murphy, a former Tabernacle committeeman.
“It’s more of the grind than anything, getting everything truly locked into place. Believe me, you don’t take anything for granted. I’m feeling pretty good, and right now, it’s a matter of getting the vote out.”
Runyan’s allies believe they’ll mow down Murphy in the Burlington portion of the 3rd District, and in Cherry Hill. It’s Ocean County that presents more of a question mark. That’s where Murphy squeaked out a second place finish two years ago on a landscape where pieces of the GOP establishment nurse wounds over that Burlington v. Ocean 2008 primary.
There’s also entrenched opposition to the George Gilmore-run GOP establishment that Murphy mobilizes as he tries to upend Runyan.
The favorite doesn’t apologize for the barrage of anti-Murphy mail he laid down on his primary rival over the past few days.
But he also doesn’t give any indication that he enjoys this part of politics.
“That’s part of how this game is played,” Runyan says. “It’s a strategy and we jumped on it at the end here.”
Knocked early for not raising a lot of money as he seeks traction to take on the financially well-heeled U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) in the general election, the Runyan campaign argues that they don’t need to demonstrate overwhelming force against Murphy. Assumed to be capable of stacking large amounts of his own NFL-earned cash toward his campaign effort, Runyan didn’t want to put his own money up early and give people the idea that he was solely a self-funder.
And campaign consultant Chris Russell says they started fundraising in March, so the numbers aren’t abysmal.
They don’t underestimate Adler. Adler is too smart and too good a fundraiser – their words.
They’re not approaching the contest as though the opposition is mortally wounded.
They know, when it comes to their candidate, there’s a learning curve.
Trained to greet fans who go to him, and not yet comfortable bounding into rooms in search of votes, Runyan doesn’t barrel in on a table full of prime meat senior citizens, for example. Two years ago, Adler opponent Chris Myers didn’t put voters in bear hugs or affectionately throw the names of people he didn’t know into his routines. But he had wonk-level attention to policy detail.
Runyan doesn’t do the aw-shucks routine either, but he also doesn’t yet go to Myers’ level of detail in breaking down the issues.
“If it happens tomorrow and we come out victorious, there is still a lot of work to do,” says Runyan. “Day in and day out.
“People have gotten to the point where politics as usual isn’t getting the job done,” he adds. “The Tea Party is out there and gaining momentum. People are fed up with career politicians.”
His allies bank on his natural competitiveness and work ethic.
And his name ID.
After dressing him down for not being conservative enough, one Tea Party member at a Runyan event reverted to fan mode and asked to pose with the former football star.