Ex-Eagle star tries to return NJ seat to GOP

Pictured: John Adler and Jon Runyan

October 24, 2010 10:20:47 AM PDT
With polls and history both suggesting either party can win it, the race to represent southern New Jersey's 3rd District in Congress began the year as the state's most closely watched - and the most surreal.

The campaign has featured squabbles over donkeys (not the Democrats' symbol, the actual farm animal), a boom in spending by independent interest groups, a protest by tea party organizations mad at third-party candidate who calls himself a tea partier, a call for a Federal Election Commission investigation, and a police complaint.

The race pits U.S. Rep. John Adler, a Democrat, against Republican challenger Jon Runyan, who is best known as a recently retired NFL player who spent much of his career as a lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Two years ago, everything aligned for a Adler to win the seat. Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton, who had represented the area since 1984 was retiring; Republicans had internal disputes over which candidate would be best to succeed him; and the Democrats had a surging Barack Obama at the top of the ticket and attracting new voters.

Runyan, then with the San Diego Chargers, decided late last year that he would retire from football at season's end to try to win back Adler's seat for the Republicans.

He quickly got the support of the Republican establishment in all three counties in the district, which stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs to the shore. Even some tea party organizations supported him from the start, choosing him over a more conservative primary opponent.

And though Obama's name isn't on the ballot, it doesn't hurt Republican candidates that less than two years into his term, the president is significantly less popular than candidate Obama was. The main theme of Runyan's campaign is the class of career politicians like Adler - a longtime state senator before he joined Congress - aren't serving the public well.

"Our forefathers intended people of the community to go represent their community, then go back to work," he said in a recent debate.

Adler retorted: "Most of our founding fathers, were, in fact, career politicians."

Adler, meanwhile, is promoting his independence. He was among only 34 House Democrats, for instance, to vote against this year's health insurance overhaul bill. He said it didn't go far enough to control costs.

While he criticizes Republican ideas, such as some corporate tax breaks, he also speaks harshly of Democrats. For instance, he's said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - a frequent target of Republicans, including Runyan - is too divisive. He says he would support more centrist candidate, if one emerges, for that job in the next Congress.

On some key issues, Runyan and Adler aren't far apart.

Both support abortion rights. Both call for restraint in government spending.

Both say they don't want to scrap Medicare and Social Security, two huge, but expensive federal entitlement programs. But there are differences.

Adler says Congress should bar offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, while Runyan says that's a decision that should be made by states.

Runyan calls for reducing federal spending to 2008 levels, something that Adler says would create widespread problems. Adler also says that aside from a pay freeze for federal employees and a federal government hiring freeze, Adler says Runyan is coming up with few specific places where cuts could be made.

Runyan says Congress should withhold funding for the health insurance overhaul; Adler says it shouldn't.

Both candidates talk about creating private-sector jobs. Runyan says the key is to cut taxes. Adler is pushing closing loopholes that can reward companies for moving jobs overseas. The race hasn't exactly been congenial.

There's been outrage from both candidates.

Runyan is mad about a mailer sent by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee that tied him to other Republicans who say Medicare and Social Security should be cut, and furious about a report that linked Democrats and Adler's campaign to helping get Peter DeStefano on the ballot as an independent candidate.

DeStefano is running as a tea-party candidate, though area tea-party organizations have denounced his campaign. Both he and Adler deny that they're in cahoots. But Republicans have called for a federal investigation.

Runyan has also asked for a local investigation, saying an Adler staffer showed up on his property to take pictures - and that amounted to harassment of the candidate's 8-year-old daughter playing outside. The Adler campaign says there was no harassment.

Adler, meanwhile, has blasted Runyan for not asking some independent groups not to take out anti-Adler ads. The organizations are not required to say where they get their money.

And Adler also criticizes Runyan for keeping donkeys on part of his Mount Laurel property to qualify some of his land for a lower agricultural tax rate. Runyan says the move is legal, common and helps preserve open space.


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