One of New Jersey’s most conservative congressmen is facing a challenge from the left, and his young opponent is trying to seize on disapproval for the man at the top of the Republican ticket. Democrat Peter Jacob attacked U.S. Representative Leonard Lance this week for his endorsement of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, saying in a statement that Lance “stands by him” despite “Trump’s bigotry and hateful rhetoric.”
Trump’s path to the November ballot has been marked by controversial statements about immigrants, minorities, women and the Muslim family of a fallen American soldier. Jacob, a political newcomer who supported progressive Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, is hoping to make Lance’s party affiliation with the real estate magnate stick in the seventh congressional district.
“Though I am disgusted by the rhetoric of Donald Trump, and disgusted with Leonard Lance for supporting Trump, I am not surprised that Lance will not withdraw his support, given his track record of falling in line with what he thinks the Republican establishment wishes,” Jacob wrote in a statement.
“Lance needs to take a stand, have some dignity, and withdraw his support of Donald Trump. We need our representatives to be leaders, not followers.”
Lance’s chief of staff Todd Mitchell was quick to respond, stopping short of defending Trump’s statements but calling the former reality TV star the best alternative to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s administration, he said, would be a mere continuation of the Obama era.
“Leonard Lance supports the Republican nominee for president because a continuation of the Obama-Clinton agenda would be a disaster for our Country, our State and constituents in the 7th District,” he said. “We cannot afford Hillary Clinton and another third Obama presidential term.
“The 7th District race for Congress, however, isn’t about presidential politics — it’s about Leonard Lance vs. Peter Jacob. Leonard Lance is running on his record of fiscal responsibility and his accomplishments, including removing Mercury from site of the Hillsborough fire and repealing wasteful taxpayer subsidies under Obamacare, and his reputation for outstanding constituent service.”
Lance has had strong showings against stronger Democratic rivals than Jacon in the past. He won with a 21-point lead against his longtime Tea Party rival David Larsen in the primary, sweeping all six counties in his conservative district. Jacob could have a hard time positioning himself as a viable alternative given Lance’s need to creep to the right during his seven-year tenure.
Mitchell took the time to twist the knife on Jacob’s lack of establishment support, citing the state’s most powerful teacher’s union’s choice to endorse Lance over him. He called Jacob’s political alignment “so radical that even the New Jersey Education Association failed to endorse him.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.