Sen. Allen’s aim is off again when it comes to her coattails

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RIVERSIDE – Republican Sen. Diane Allen swept into the Election Day after-party at the finely appointed dining and social complex called the Cafe Madison here about 9 o’clock last night, an hour after the polls closed.

She was about to shoot down her latest challenger and was in good spirits among the campaign elite enjoying their spirits from the bar across the spacious room, gas fireplace blazing behind a glass panel in the background.

The 63-year-old veteran was on her way to once again soundly beating an opponent. This time around it was Democrat Gail Cook, the youthful 70-year-old mayor of the tiny hardscrabble Delaware River town of Beverly City, who lost by 5,500 votes.

But what Allen didn’t sweep into the room or into office with her were her two 7th legislative district ticket mates, businessman Chris Halgas, whose family owns the tony Madison, or Mount Laurel Mayor Jim Keenan. Both lost their races to incumbent Democrat Herb Conoway and incoming freshman Troy Singleton by at least 2,400 votes.

Allen’s short-trimmed coattails are by now a familiar refrain but one that remains a mystery to many.

The ambitious former Philadelphia TV network news anchor first rode her South Jersey-wide fame into office a year after leaving television, winning an Assembly seat in 1995 in a district where the Democrats enjoyed a two-to-one advantage in voter registration.

The former expert rifle marksman from her collegiate days at Bucknell University set her sights on the Senate seat she now holds after just a single term in the lower house. The mere spectre of Allen entering the race chased the hapless Democrat who’d had the misfortune of holding the seat at the time, Jack Casey, who went running for the exit without standing for re-election.

A fellow by the name of Robert Broderick gave it a shot, but became the first in a long line of Democratic hopefuls to have those hopes shot through by Allen, a political Annie Oakley, who won handily as she collected 30,875 votes to Broderick’s 25,501.

But the Assembly candidates who ran with her then, as now, didn’t make the cut with district voters. Republican Ken Faulkner was just 67 votes shy of victory in that race and came much closer than any of her running mates ever would either then or in any of the three elections since, including yesterday’s.

So Allen finds herself at the end of each Election Day tempering her own victory speeches in consideration of the crestfallen emotions of teammates exhausted and spent after giving their all.

At Cafe Madison last night, she pronounced herself “heartbroken” as she stood between her running mates to claim victory for herself, but then help concede the Assembly races for them in front of the 100 or so District 7 GOP supporters who turned out for what they’d hoped would’ve been a clean sweep for their candidates.

The Republicans felt they had a real shot this time, too, with the retirement of seven-term Assemblyman Jack Conners and the selection as his replacement the longtime Democratic operative Troy Singleton, one-time chief of staff to former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts.

On top of that, they had a new legislative district map to work with that was adopted this spring, dropping one big Democratic town, Pennsauken, while picking up solidly Republican Moorestown, where Allen grew up with her famously Quaker roots, and Republican-leaning Mount Laurel.

Still, the district only moved from a margin of 30 percent Democrat and 15 percent Republican to 38 percent Democratic and 21 percent Republican.

But why is it that Allen – who fought a bout with tongue cancer this term and seems to have conquered it – can win so handily and not at least give a hand up to a running mate once in awhile.

Why, I asked her last night just before she delivered her victory speech, does she appear not to have any coattails?

“You know with this big ass you’d think I would,” she joked, before hurriedly adding amid the laughter, “don’t print that.”

Settling into the question more seriously, she recalled that she did bring along her Assembly running mate, Carmine DeSopo, back in the 1995 race.

“But once in the Senate, I’ve never been able to bring anyone in with me,” she added. But she’s at a loss to explain why.

Is it the reservoir of living room fame that shines only on her, thanks to the television exposure she received at those two different Philadelphia network TV stations? After all, she was on nightly during the pre-internet and social media heyday of the late ’70s, ’80s and then the early ’90s, stints that came after serving as a news anchor at the now defunct state public television network, NJN, before moving on to Philadelphia TV.

She allows that that “plays a part” in her own tallies versus those of her running mates.

But she goes on to credit her office’s constituent services work.

“I have the most spectacular staff,” she says. “We’ve closed over 10,000 constituent cases that have come through our office since I’ve been in the Senate.”

“People come up to me on the street,” she says, and not because she’s a former news anchor recognizable to everyday people. Rather, she says, they’re constituents who want to thank her for her office’s assistance in this matter or that one.

So while Allen will now forge ahead on a fourth term in the state Senate, she’ll do so once more without any party teammates in the Assembly down the hall.

“I’m thankful people saw fit to send me back,” Allen told last night’s post-Election crowd.

But the old sharpshooter and the Republican party keep missing the mark each time they try to send another young gun to Trenton along with her.

Sen. Allen’s aim is off again when it comes to her coattails