BAYVILLE – They don’t really know Tom MacArthur.
But like the main character in Avatar, he suddenly materialized among those who live here intent on becoming a leader, in this case, the Republican nominee for Congress in the Third District.
The pizza “party” at MacArthur headquarters was in the political equivalent of a shoebox on the side of Route 9.
There was hardly any press here, so to those reporters phoning it in for a feel-out of the room, no one would be lying if he said the place was “packed.”
It was packed like that room on the ship in the Marx Brothers move A Night at the Opera.
“This is a comma in a sentence,” explained campaign operative Frank Luna. “We didn’t want to spend money on a party.”
So it was a victory party that wasn’t a party.
This was the candidate recruited because he has unlimited access to a personal fortune.
You couldn’t book a room for a few hours at the Ramada? PolitickerNJ wanted to know.
“That’s one way of looking at it,” said the hard-nosed blue collar Luna, an Ocean County native. “I’m looking at going to work.”
“Work” apparently is Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, who’s running in the general election in a gerrymandered GOP district that became more Republican – not less – since the late John Adler – a political animal – squeaked out a 2008 win with the Barack Obama revolution at his back.
The event tonight early underscored a backwash of cynicism leading up to what most believe will be capped by MacArthur’s personal notes of victorious gratitude.
After all, Runyan had welcomed hundreds to his victory feast in 2010 only to cut free of politics four years later.
Soon he will vanish.
So the organizations appeared ill at ease with big theatrical gestures.
The process creaked with organizational misgiving from the beginning.
A number of willing Republican bullpen members stepped up when U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R-3) shocked the political world with his announcement that he wouldn’t pursue a third term.
A list of hopefuls ballooned out of both counties, and included local and state elected officials, at least one labor leader and the callow son of a powerful fundraiser.
But Republican leaders George Gilmore of Ocean and Bill Layton of Burlington worried about the presence of Lonegan in the lead-up to the pre-primary season.
They feared that the movement conservative – because of his name ID, aggressive campaign style and money – could defeat any of the lesser known home grown elected officials who lacked the capacity to fundraise.
They couldn’t picture trying to contain an unwieldy cowboy like the former mayor of Bogota.
They also didn’t especially feel like reaching into their own pockets to bankroll a federal employee.
Warily circling each other, the two GOP bosses also wanted to avoid what they went through in 2008, when the two counties – each putting up its own candidate – battled each other into a bloody and costly mess.
Rather than fight each other, Gilmore and Layton used the presence of Lonegan to unite behind a safe candidate with no apparent longstanding ties or roots in either county.
That turned out to be MacArthur, a former mayor of Randolph and summertime shore reveler.
And while Mo Hill – a retired rear admiral and Toms River councilman who uncomfortably had kept his mouth shut in 2010 when football player Runyan big-footed him on the strength of dollars and name ID – refused to peel off like all the other lower limb name brands, he couldn’t beat MacArthur at the Ocean GOP Convention.
In the words of Lonegan earlier today as he savaged MacArthur just after voting, “It was about money.”
MacArthur had it, demonstrating his self-funding prowess when he outspent his movement conservative adversary by a well over 2-1 margin.
The contest boiled over into an air war of accusations.
Part II to follow…