ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Steps from the docks, the area around the Shore Casino is riddled with Anna Little signs and inside, the mayor of Highlands, an underdog, Tea Party-endorsed candidate for Congress in the 6th District, welcomes 90 guests to a $60 per head fundraiser exactly one week in front of Election Day.
The speech blends U.S. Constitution adoration with gut level working middle class indignation.
“Repatriate all immigrants who are not in the U.S. legally right now,” says Little, after taking the microphone from Steve Lonegan, the state’s movement conservative leader and tonight’s featured speaker.
“We need to build the wall, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a matter of public safety. It’s got to stop. It’s just got to stop.”
That sets hands to clapping.
“Known her for years, she’s the best – smart – an immigration lawyer,” says Captain S. Rajan of Marlboro, a veteran of the Royal Air Force who flew missions in both the Indo-China and Indian-Pakistan wars.
“She’s going to win,” adds the same former chair of the Marlboro Republican Party who once told Bob Kleinberg he was going to lose, rightfully predicting the 2007 victory of Mayor Jon Hornik.
A roar goes up from the feasting audience with the announcement that the campaign just received a $2,000 contribution from the Eagle Forum, a national Tea Party affiliate.
Much rides on this fundraiser in which Lonegan, last year’s second place gubernatorial candidate behind eventual winner Chris Christie, hopes to inflate the operation by night’s end.
Respected among fellow elected officials as a renegade who bucked her own party when she was freeholder, Little’s up against the machine in a Republican Primary, and so far her grassroots fundraising has proved lackluster. Before tonight, she reported $21,720 raised and just $2,215 cash on hand.
Robert Little, the candidate’s husband and a former party chair in Highlands, positions both elbows on the bar as he considers his wife’s anti-establishment uprising against Diane Gooch, a multi-millionaire newspaper publisher and vice chair of the Monmouth County GOP with $250,000 cash on hand.
“We’ve tied ourselves to the Tea Party movement, and in a way, the campaign is an interesting experiment because we will find out on Tuesday if the movement is deep in the district or whether Tea Party people are perceived to be a bunch of right wing nuts – which they’re not.”
Pete Carroll, whose mother once ran for Congress against the late U.S. Rep. Bob Franks, motions Bob Little into an adjoining room at the Shore Casino, to examine a map of the 6th District, which U.S. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) has dominated for over 20 years.
There are a lot of areas left on that map where Little needs to drop literature over the course of the next six days, but Carroll and Little are heartened by what Little says is the unmistakable intensified presence of the Gooch campaign in the Middlesex portion of the district.
They believe Anna Little has solid grassroots support in the blue collar shore towns and along the Monmouth Bayshore, from Highlands to Keyport.
“I’m really proud to back Anna,” Atlantic Highlands Mayor Fred Rast tells the crowd. “She is the only person who should challenge Frank Pallone. He’ll be a strong candidate to beat and we need to put a strong candidate against him.”
He hits the military chord in a crowd where several men creak to their feet later in the evening when Anna Little asks the veterans in the room to stand and be recognized.
“I’m pond scum compared to these kids serving now with multiple tours of active duty,” says Rast to mounting applause. A moment later he likens himself to a warmup rock band to the event’s main speaker, Lonegan.
“I’ve been called a lot of things, but never Led Zeppelin,” cracks Lonegan, who proceeds to endorse Little in the strongest possible terms.
“I get calls from candidates to endorse them, and then when I ask them to tell me who wrote the Declaration of Independence, they can’t do it,” says Lonegan. “Anna goes above and beyond in her knowledge. We need to elect principled individuals to Congress, and I have to tell you, Anna Little is better than any candidate I have ever seen in New Jersey.”
Lonegan begs the crowd for more money.
So does Nick Romagnoli of Ocean Township, who urges supporters to dig into their checkbooks.
“This is a campaign of pitchforks and bats,” says the Little supporter, who returns repeatedly to the microphone to make another last week plug for the longshot mayor of Highlands.