2009 New Jersey Race May Affect 2010

Posted May 20, 2009 at 6:33pm

New Jersey’s high-profile gubernatorial race is the topic of most electoral chatter in the Garden State these days but some insiders are already trying to game out how the 2009 contest will impact the 2010 Congressional cycle.

Fair Haven Mayor Mike Halfacre (R), who has filed an exploratory committee to challenge Rep. Rush Holt (D) in New Jersey’s 12th district in 2010, said Wednesday that he was encouraged by a new Quinnipiac University poll this week that showed former federal prosecutor Chris Christie (R) with a narrow lead over Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in the gubernatorial contest.

“I’m working very hard for Chris Christie,— said Halfacre, who was on Capitol Hill earlier this week meeting with National Republican Congressional Committee officials about his Congressional bid. “We feel if Christie wins, our job [against Holt in 2010] would be helped significantly.—

The first-term mayor and real estate attorney said the momentum gained from a Christie victory in 2009 combined with what he expects will be a backlash against President Barack Obama in 2010 will be a potent combination for Republican growth in the Garden State.

But whether it would be enough to unseat an entrenched incumbent like Holt in a district that went for Obama with 58 percent of the vote in 2008 seems like a stretch.

To be at all competitive, Halfacre would likely need a big boost in money and publicity from the NRCC.

And if Christie does unseat Corzine and national Republicans are looking to make a move in New Jersey in 2010, they’re probably much more likely to target Democratic freshman Rep. John Adler’s 3rd district seat.

The district includes the Republican stronghold of Ocean County and before Adler won the open-seat contest last year, retired Republican Rep. Jim Saxton had held the district without much worry for 13 terms.

Adler is coming off a 4-point victory over former Medford Mayor Chris Myers (R) in a district that Obama won by 52 percent.

Adler’s victory was certainly helped by a contentious GOP primary in 2008, and the freshman Congressman, who spent nearly $2.8 million on his 2008 race, has been raising money like he knows he’s a target. He brought in more than $464,000 in the first quarter of 2009, a total that was tops among New Jersey House Members.

One new Jersey Republican strategist said this week that a Christie victory this fall would not only boost Republicans in fundraising and statewide organization when it comes to trying to retake the 3rd district, but could also help ensure a clear primary field so the GOP candidate won’t have to bleed away money and resources before the general election.

A few Republicans who are already being mentioned as possible challengers to Adler this cycle are state Sens. Diane Allen and Chris Connors, state Assemblyman and former Medford Mayor Scott Rudder, Toms River Councilman Maurice Hill, Ocean County Freeholder Gerry Little and former Burlington County GOP Chairman Mike Warner. Myers could also get a second shot at Adler.

Whoever emerges, the NRCC is already working to tie Adler, a longtime state politician before he won his Congressional seat, to some of his party’s more polarizing figures.

“After toeing the party line for Jon Corzine in Trenton, John Adler isn’t doing himself any favors by carrying on the same role with Nancy Pelosi in Washington,— NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay said. “The gubernatorial race may be taking much of the attention in New Jersey these days, but Adler will face a strong challenge next year that will force him to own up to his failure to hold his unpopular party leaders accountable.—

But Democrats, who remain confident that Corzine’s vaunted political machine and unlimited personal resources will carry the day in the Garden State’s gubernatorial race, are not without targets of their own for 2010.

At the top of that list is the 7th Congressional district of freshman Rep. Leonard Lance (R).

Lance secured 51 percent of the vote in 2008, good enough to beat Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D) by 9 points. But despite Stender’s surprisingly poor performance (she lost the district by less than 3,000 votes in 2006 and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pumped nearly $2 million in independent expenditures into the race in 2008), Democrats still believe the district can be competitive.

In the wake of Stender’s defeat, Democrats have pointed to the fact that Obama took 51 percent in the 7th district.

Democratic insiders in Washington said Stender — who could be in for a tough re-election fight this year for her Assembly seat against one of the Republicans that Lance beat in his 2008 House primary — won’t get a third shot at the 7th district.

Early speculation as to who might carry the Democratic banner in the district has fallen on Summit Mayor Jordan Glatt, former Hillsborough Mayor Joseph Tricarico and Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, who was state treasurer from 2002 to 2006.

Glatt said he’s hasn’t made any decision about a 2010 Congressional bid.

“I never say never,— he said. “The 7th district is a tough district for a Democrat. … So much will depend on the shape each party is in going into 2010.—

Glatt added that Lance’s early record of standing by Republican leaders in Congress on key votes has opened him up to some criticism back home.

“Lance is a good man. … [But] I would like to see some more independence from him,— he said.

Tricarico — who met with DCCC officials about running in the 7th district during the 2006 cycle before stepping out of the race to make room for Stender — said a Congressional bid is something he’s continued to mull in recent years.

“I certainly haven’t [ruled] out the possibility,— said Tricarico, who currently works as an assistant commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Health.

DCCC spokesman Shripal Shah said that no matter who the Democratic candidate is in the 7th district, there’s a case to be made that Lance doesn’t deserve a second term.

“Leonard Lance has quickly shown his true colors as a typical just say no’ Republican: Opposing tax cuts, job creation measures, and investments in our country’s infrastructure is sure to leave his constituents with plenty of buyers’ remorse,— Shah said.

Lance has been the DCCC’s top target in New Jersey since the beginning of the cycle, but the committee has also worked to tie the “just say no— label to Republican Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Scott Garrett.

LoBiondo, whose 2nd district seat went for Obama by 9 points on election night, has become a perennial target of Democrats, though they have yet to persuade a solid challenger to take him on. Last cycle, the DCCC and state Democrats worked hard to recruit state Sen. Jeff Van Drew to run, but he took a pass. It’s likely he’ll be the top choice again.

Garrett represents a district that has some liberal pockets but appears to be just out of reach for Democrats.