Tea Party congressional candidates slog on a long campaign trail

WOODBRIDGE – It’s hard to miss the outstretched, campaign-mode hands of Tea Party candidates who lost in last year’s elections but didn’t get dented enough – or dented at all, depending on your perspective – to go underground.

Front and center at this Gov. Chris Christie town hall hall event this morning stood former Highlands Mayor Anna Little, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) of Long Branch; and bringing up the back of the room was Tewksbury businessman David Larsen, who fought U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) of Lebanon in last year’s GOP Primary.

Woodbridge splits between Lance and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-13) of West New York, and Pallone has a big chunk of Middlesex.

“She’s just a citizen now,” said Little handler Larry Cirigiano, “She ended her term in January.”

“There’s talk in the party of me going statewide, but right now, I’m just focused on Pallone,” said Little, who’s committed to running again in 2012. She’s been making the rounds not only of union counter rallies and Christie town halls, but more sedate, establishment fare like a Rider University Rebovich Institute toasting of former Gov. Tom Kean last month, as she tries to straddle the party’s goodwill in preparation for the 6th Congressional District Primary a year and a half out.

Whatever Little’s statewide designs, the early buzz is that state Sen. Mike Doherty (R-23) of Washington Twp. is fundraising from that wing of the party for a go at U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

“I know,” said Little, when PolitickerNJ.com suggested that her entry into a statewide senate campaign could cannibalize herself and Doherty – and the hopes of Tea Party, movement conservatives – all at once.

But, leaving the senate option open, at the very least, Little pointed out that candidates should not be afraid to run simply because they may duplicate on some issues.

Then there was Larsen, convivial at the center of a small group of Middlesex County Republicans in the roomful of 450 people.

“When I came in, there was a group of union guys protesting and we exchanged ideas,” said the Republican Primary victim who Tea Partied it against Lance in 2010. “We can have a difference of opinion. When I left, they told me I should run for Congress.”

Tea Party congressional candidates slog on a long campaign trail