Parties Scrapping in N.J. Open-Seat Races

Posted October 8, 2008 at 6:25pm

Four months ago, the Republican candidates in New Jersey’s 3rd and 7th district open-seat races were coming off nasty primary battles that left both campaigns in a tough financial position heading into the general election.

Meanwhile, Democratic state Sen. John Adler and state Assemblywoman Linda Stender had been uncontested in their own primaries and had raised more than $1 million each for their much-hyped Congressional bids.

But even considering those early general election dynamics, Democrats said this week that they never expected to run away with either open-seat contest in what remain two Republican-leaning districts that have long been in the GOP column.

And indeed recent polling numbers have shown both races remain statistical tossups.

A Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll from Sunday showed that in the 7th district seat of retiring Rep. Mike Ferguson (R), state Sen. Leonard Lance (R) held a 4-point lead over Stender in a survey of 410 likely voters. Monmouth released a second poll Tuesday that showed Medford Mayor Chris Myers (R) leading Adler by 3 points in a poll of 430 likely voters in the 3rd district seat of retiring Rep. Jim Saxton (R).

Those polls were taken Sept. 30-Oct. 2, at a time when the focus on the nation’s economic woes seems to have been hurting Republicans more than Democrats across the country. And that fact, combined with the early general election advantages that Democrats had in these races, has Republicans confident that their candidates are holding their own despite Democrats’ high hopes of stealing the two open seats.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman with the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Wednesday that he believes Democrats have been overconfident about their chances in the 3rd and 7th districts this cycle, especially considering that they were running candidates who had failed in previous Congressional bids. Adler lost to Saxton when he challenged the Congressman back in 1990, while Stender was narrowly defeated by Ferguson during their 2006 contest. Ferguson beat Stender in that contest by just 1 point (even though a poll taken four weeks before the election showed Ferguson up by 7 points).

Buck said he expects that as news of a controversial state funding program begins to grab headlines in New Jersey, Adler and Stender will not be able to escape being viewed as part of the “corrupt Trenton Democratic machine” — and that will only continue to help Lance and Myers leading up to November.

Bob Holste, a Republican consultant for Myers’ campaign, said he believes Democrats fell into the trap of placing too much confidence in an early advantage in fundraising and GOP primary battles.

“Writing [Myers’] race off early was a big mistake made by a lot of people in Washington,” Holste said.

But Democrats argue that they never considered the 3rd or 7th district races in the bag.

One New Jersey Democratic consultant said Wednesday that simply judging by recent presidential voting patterns in the district, the party expected Stender and Adler to have tough races.

“Nobody thought it was going to be a landslide,” the consultant said.

That consultant added that considering the expense of New Jersey air time, candidates traditionally begin to advertise later in New Jersey and, as such, races tend to break later. So to get a better sense of where district voters are today, the consultant suggested looking to the presidential voting numbers that show Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) with a slight lead in both districts.

Besides, Democrats say, the full might of the Democratic financial advantage has yet to play out.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already heavily outspent the NRCC in both districts. And even taking into account the hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures spent by the conservative 501(c)(4) Freedom’s Watch, the DCCC is still ahead. And it appears that spending lead will continue through Election Day.

Democratic officials said Wednesday that considering Adler’s and Stender’s financial advantages and the fact that they have been building their campaigns since before Saxton and Ferguson decided to retire, they are well-positioned heading into November.

“For John Adler and Linda Stender to be tied with their Republican opponents and to have strong financial and organizational advantages is a great place for Democrats to be with just three weeks to go until Election Day,” DCCC spokeswoman Carrie James said.