GOP Primary Victors Try to Mend Fences

Posted June 4, 2008 at 6:27pm

In New Jersey, where Republicans are hoping to hang on to two of their most endangered open seats of the cycle, two lively GOP primaries yielded decisive results Tuesday.

In the central New Jersey 7th district, where Rep. Mike Ferguson (R) is stepping down at the end of his term, state Sen. Leonard Lance won a crowded GOP primary handily. With 40 percent of the vote, Lance defeated his closest competitor, political activist Kate Whitman, the daughter of the state’s former governor, by 20 points.

Farther south, in the 3rd district of retiring Rep. Jim Saxton, Lockheed Martin Vice President Chris Myers defeated Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly and businessman Justin Murphy by 23 and 24 points, respectively.

Now the question is whether Lance and Myers can regroup and heal the wounds of their primary battles in time to defeat a pair of highly touted Democratic state legislators who went unchallenged in their own party primaries and who have used their time to pack away resources for the general election campaign.

“Heading into the general election, not only are Myers and Lance faced with defending President Bush’s failed legacy, but they also have a seriously broken Republican base to mend,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Carrie James said on Wednesday.

Both state Sen. John Adler (D), who will face Myers in the 3rd district, and state Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D), who will take on Lance in the 7th, have enjoyed unified support from state and national Democrats since they announced their candidacies, James said. Both were included among the first seven additions to the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” fundraising and infrastructure program, an effort that now boasts 25 candidates across the country.

On the Republican side, both Lance and Myers burned through nearly all of their campaign cash during their primaries and will be looking to replenish those coffers during the summer months.

But Republicans contend that the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent during the primary race was not wasted.

Although spending large sums of campaign cash is “a downside to running a primary, there’s also upsides,” Myers campaign manager Chris Russell said Wednesday. “Chris Myers has his name out there.”

But the fact remains that Adler had more than $1.1. million in cash on hand as of mid-May and Stender had more than $900,000 in her war chest. And with New Jersey relying on some of the most expensive media markets in the country, that fundraising advantage (plus the massive cash on hand lead that the DCCC has over the National Republican Congressional Committee) will be even more important this fall.

“Since Republicans have so little money and a depressed Republican base, Democrats are poised to pick up … at least two seats in Jersey this year,” James said.

As Lance and Myers focus on uniting their local parties for November, they will have the support of both Saxton (who supported Myers early in his campaign) and Ferguson (who stayed on the sidelines during the primary).

Saxton said Wednesday that it is essential that the GOP county committees in Myers’ base in Burlington County and Kelly’s base in Ocean County begin to work together to ensure the party keeps a seat in a district that Bush won by just 8,000 votes in 2004 after losing it four years earlier. That process will be particularly important considering that Myers came in third pace in Ocean County on Tuesday, earning just over a quarter of the vote. He’ll certainly need to pick up the support of the nearly 10,000 voters who chose either Kelly or Murphy on Tuesday if he hopes to defeat Adler, who is expected to struggle in the Republican bastion of Ocean County.

“I think the process of getting the two organizations together will proceed rather rapidly,” Saxton said. “I’ve already had some conversations with the former county chairman” of Ocean County. “He and I are going to work together to make sure people have the opportunity to chat under the right circumstances.”

Ferguson called the 7th district GOP primary “a healthy thing for the party, in that it showed the diversity and strength of the party.”

And while Democrats pointed to the anemic voter turnout in the GOP primary and talked up their own rising registration numbers in the state, Lance scoffed at the prospect that they will be able to flip the 7th district this fall.

“I think that the voter turnout was lower here because we already had the presidential primary,” he said.

Pointing to Bush’s 53 percent victory in the district in 2004 (he won by only 1 point in 2000), Lance said: “This is a Republican leaning district. John McCain will do extremely well in this Congressional district. … I think John McCain will do better than President Bush did in the district.”

And though the 7th district GOP primary was a hard-fought race, Ferguson said Wednesday that “the candidates were communicating with each other last night — they were gracious and supportive of each other and they are going to move forward. … Those wounds have already begun to heal.”

But Democrats have been happy to make that healing process a little bit tougher by fanning the flames of discord that surfaced during the GOP primaries.

In the 7th district, Stender’s campaign has only been too happy to point out that Whitman went decidedly negative in the late stages of her campaign, accusing Lance of failing taxpayers during his time in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, in the 3rd district, the state Democratic Party went so far as to send out mail to Republican voters attacking Myers during the general election in an effort to stir up the intercounty feud between Burlington County and Ocean County.

The flier repeated charges that Kelly made that attacked Myers’ tax record during his time as mayor of Medford.

On Wednesday, in a letter to Adler in which he accepted the state Senator’s challenge to monthly debates leading up to the election, Myers made reference to those mailers.

“My deepest apologies on all the money and resources your Trenton Political Machine wasted during your underhanded attempt to avoid facing me in the general election,” Myers wrote. “Just as I predicted, your shameful meddling in the primary and negative mailers distorting my record in Medford backfired … big time.”

New Jersey Democratic Party spokesman Richard McGrath said that Myers seems to be missing the point of the mailings that the state committee sent out.

“The fact that Chris Myers takes a perverse pleasure in being criticized for his failed record as mayor shows he doesn’t get it,” McGrath said. “The more he talks about our mail pieces, the more attention he brings to the facts contained in the mailers. … Now that we’re in a general election, he’ll be held accountable for his support for George Bush’s failed agenda, especially on the economy and the war.”