Today is Election Day and Congressional primaries feature Tea Party candidates in all of the districts save the 5th, home to U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage).
Political insiders don’t give the Tea Party candidates much chance, in part because they’re on the inside, in part because of the line history in New Jersey, and in part because of Gov. Chris Christie’s victory last year – and subsequent record in Trenton.
Christie’s proposed cuts shrinking government programs, his decision not to reappoint state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, his brawl with the teachers’ union, and public unification of his state party in his efforts, all have cohered to make him a champion to those same Republican forces endorsing the Tea Party on a national scale.
By winning as last year’s GOP establishment candidate and then happily surprising former opponents Steve Lonegan and Richard Merkt – who ran to the right of Christie in the 2009 gubernatorial – Christie over the course of the last five months arguably blunted the urgency of a Tea Party backlash in New Jersey.
Republican sources say if Christie had lost to Gov. Jon Corzine and revealed an anemic GOP establishment with organizational lines incapable of defeating an unpopular incumbent, the Tea Party brand would be more robust in New Jersey.
But whatever the inside game, the record presence of 29 candidates running to the right of the Republican establishment shows pushback against President Barack Obama’s national agenda – even if they remain the underdogs in a state where it’s hard to win off the line.
Some races to watch include the 3rd, where former Philadelphia Eagles star-turned-congressional candidate Jon Runyan lines up with the establishment against renegade Republican candidate Justin Murphy of Tabernacle.
In the 5th District, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton) looks to administer a beating to Tea Party Approved challenger Alan Bateman. As a pro life brand name, Smith in an effort to dominate Bateman utterly brought in conservative U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachman of Minnesota for an 11th hour robocall.
The 6th District features marquee Tea Party challenger Highlands Mayor Anna Little (who has received the support of both disparate groups and the tri-state umbrella Independence Hall Tea Party group) against Diane Gooch of Rumson, who has the backing of the Republican Party in all four counties that touch the 6th District.
Issuing mea culpas districtwide for his aye vote on cap and trade, U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Lebanon) hopes to fend off three candidates running to his right in the 7th: Bruce Baker, Lon Hosford and David Larsen. Looking to bolster the incumbent’s conservative street cred, Christie publicly endorsed Lance and issued a robocall on behalf of the former state senate minority leader.
In the 9th District, Tea Party Approved candidate John Aslanian runs against organization man Michael Agosta for the right to face U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Fairlawn).
Morristown Tea Party organizer Richard Luzzi faces veteran U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) in the 11th. Wall Street veteran Scott Sipprelle, who runs with the backing of the party, faces Tea Party Approved candidate Dave Corsi in the 12th District.
On the Democratic Party side, where there are 18 candidates running, Barry Bendar is running arguably the most aggressive campaign against an incumbent, in this case, U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill). Adler’s vote against healcare reform irritated Bendar, who appears to have no shot.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.