Republican businessman Tom MacArthur swears he’s not taking anything for granted in his November general election CD3 showdown with Democrat Aimee Belgard, as both sides load up for what might be the only congressional race in the state.
Some argue it doesn’t even rise to that level, but not those close to Belgard, an attorney and Burlington County freeholder, intent on upending MacArthur – and keen on bludgeoning her rival with a weapon MacArthur’s vanquished GOP Primary rival couldn’t use.
Although insiders carped about the closet-like headquarters he used for his victory speech when he landed the GOP nomination on June 3rd and wrote off the optics as a careful campaign effort to disguise what might have been a half-empty room among picked over celery stalks and dip in a banquet hall, MacArthur insisted he chose the work space to declare victory over Lonegan because he doesn’t believe in spiking the football at midfield.
Yet while he projects commitment to a real contest with Belgard, his on-and-off-the-record GOP allies aren’t as upbeat about the prospect of a true contest in the 3rd District as they are upbeat about MacArthur shredding Belgard.
It’s like this:
In a bid for the CD3 seat vacated by Jim Saxton, the late John Adler, a Democrat, squeaked out a victory in 2008 with the Obama revolution at his back. It was the first time a Democrat held the seat since the 1800s. He then lost his 2010 re-election bid. In 2011, the district became more Republican with the addition of Brick and removal of Cherry Hill from the district.
Adler was the consummate political animal, moreover, with a force field that included the family of South Jersey Democratic power whose umbilical cord leads back to George Norcross III.
While there are 122,781 registered Democrats in CD3 compared to 114,729 Republicans, the 214,881 independents have a nearly exhaustive history of leaning Republican; and in the Ocean half of the district, R’s dwarf D’s 53,492 to 39,619.
“Ocean County will come out strong for MacArthur,” said a confident Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore.
Then there’s the money factor.
At this time in the lead up to the 2008 general, Adler had $1 million in the bank.
Belgard has $332,104.
Recruited because he can self-fund – and because he could put a cash squeeze on the better known Lonegan – MacArthur reported $2 million cash-on-hand with two weeks to go before the Republican Primary, and has already restored about that amount in the time since the election, a source told PolitickerNJ.
Of the money he’s put together so far, just $16,309 comes from contributions. The rest he loaned himself.
Of the money Belgard raised since October of last year toward her candidacy, the full $474,402 comes from contributions, according to the Federal Election Commission.
“She can’t get out of Burlington County with big enough numbers to win,” said Burlington County GOP Chairman Bill Layton.
The BurlCo GOP gets beat up countywide during presidential elections.
This isn’t one, Layton notes.
“Tom will win Burlington with 51-52%,” he said. “The only time a Democrat can win is with an Obama at the top of the ticket.”
For all that, Belgard allies are convinced their home district candidate has MacArthur’s number.
In short, they argue, the former mayor of Randolph is a carpetbagger, whose Achilles Heel never showed up in the Republican Primary because Lonegan (himself newly relocated to the 3rd) suffered the same weakness.
He couldn’t exploit it, but Democrats will, says Hannah Ledford, Belgard’s campaign manager.
“MacArthur is simply out-of-touch with the issues that South Jersey’s middle class families and small business owners face,” Ledford told PolitickerNJ, adding the twist of MacArthur’s financial executive background. “He’s a North Jersey insurance executive who made millions while his company was repeatedly sued for shortchanging disaster victims, and now he’s trying to buy himself a seat in Congress.”
Layton says that’s all they’ve got to throw at his candidate.
“The only thing Aimee Belgard’s ever gotten done is to get lucky with Obama at the top of the ticket,” the BurlCo chairman said. “This is a guy who creates jobs; who has spent his career creating jobs. Name one job Aimee Belgard has created in her life, or one policy that has created a job.”
“Aimee is focused on creating jobs, growing the economy and standing up for our communities’ middle-class families, veterans and seniors,” Ledford countered. “She has a long track record of working with both parties to get things done for her constituents, and that’s exactly what she’s going to do in Congress. South Jersey voters are ready for a leader in Congress who understands them and will work to find reasonable solutions to the gridlock in Washington and the problems facing middle class families and small businesses — that’s what Aimee offers.”
Ledford sees MacArthur siding with billionaires and special interests in Washington who are “stacking the deck against middle class families.”
For his part, Gilmore delighted in the Democrats’ coming salvo, especially the residency piece, noting that while he’s new, MacArthur lives in Ocean – not Burlington.
“This will be the choice: residents of Ocean versus Aimee Belgard from Burlington,” the Republican chairman said.