Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

New Jersey Republicans Wrestle With Steve Lonegan

Runyan is retiring. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The open-seat race to replace retiring Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., might sound familiar: A tea party firebrand threatens to upend a GOP primary, meanwhile Democrats cleared the field for an all-but-anointed nominee.

But this is New Jersey, where machine politics trump national trends.

The tea party candidate is former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, the GOP’s nominee for the Senate special election last year who lost to Cory Booker by 11 points. Democrats have touted Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, who announced her candidacy for the seat in November.

Lonegan announced his House candidacy this month in The Newark Star-Ledger, infuriating operatives in the district. In other states, congressional candidates — especially Republicans — can successfully run as political outsiders. But New Jersey is different.

Local party leaders wield immense influence over the Garden State’s ballot alignment. County chairmen and committees give advantageous ballot placement to a preferred candidate in a designation known colloquially as “the line.”

It is nearly impossible for a New Jersey candidate to win a party nomination without the line, and local GOP leaders have already signaled that Lonegan is not their man.

“Lonegan is probably the Democrats’ best chance to win the seat,” Burlington County GOP Chairman Bill Layton said in a phone interview last week with Roll Call.

Lonegan plans to move from his home in the northern part of the Garden State to the 3rd District, which is east of Philadelphia. But Layton argued Lonegan’s relocation isn’t the problem — it’s his opposition to government funds for Hurricane Sandy relief and his positions on Medicare.

The 3rd District includes a large section of the Jersey Shore, which felt the brunt of the 2012 hurricane. The seat also has a consequential elderly voting population.

One of Lonegan’s best assets is his name identification. He has run statewide in three different GOP primaries over the last decade.

But Lonegan’s viability will likely depend on factors outside of his control. To win the nod, he needs a crowded primary field to splinter the vote. That could happen if local leaders are divided in their choices for a nominee.

It’s one reason why local Republicans are determined to unify behind a single candidate. The district is home to two dominant, competing counties, Burlington and Ocean, that have battled over candidates before.

In 2008, the counties waged political war with each other over the district’s primary to replace retiring Republican Rep. Jim Saxton. Local Republicans blame that circumstance, along with a favorable year for Democrats in 2008, for losing the seat to the late Democratic Rep. John Adler.

As a result, Republicans said there’s a good-faith effort to avoid a divisive county-on-county feud this time around.

“We have a pact that we’re gong to do everything in our power to select one candidate,” Layton said of his Ocean County counterpart, George R. Gilmore. Layton added that they intend to settle on a candidate in February.

State and national Republicans named the following contenders as potential candidates to succeed Runyan:

  • Evesham Mayor Randy Brown
  • Former Burlington County Freeholder Bruce Garganio
  • Toms River Councilman-At-Large Maurice “Mo” Hill
  • Former Randolph Mayor Tom MacArthur. (Randolph is in northern New Jersey, but MacArthur owns property in Ocean County and has the capacity to fund his own campaign — a candidate quality that’s proven desirable to national Republicans this cycle.)
  • State Assemblyman David Wolfe

The primary will take place on June 3. The race is rated Tossup by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

  • Skilled Bail Bonds

    Steve Lonegan is New Jersey’s number one champion for taxpayers. As a
    Mayor and as Americans for Prosperity state director, Lonegan has led
    the fight for the men and women who work hard and pay government’s

  • View From The Left

    American for Prosperity? You mean that right-wing(nut) Koch brothers’ group? Ha-ha-ha!! And you think that being lead puppet for that group will be a plus for Lonegan? Ha-ha-ha!! ROFLAO! Ha-ha-ha!!!

  • inIA2010

    .. and to foot the bill for coporate benefactors…

  • marcia

    Since your view is skewed by a self-acknowledged leftist thought process, you are already a lost cause. However, it is not you we look toward swaying…we need to Teach your offspring.
    It’s also too late for Odumboites and his generation to relearn what his purpose in office was supposed to have accomplished….but his children still have a chance to right his wrongs. As America’s first Black president, who portrayed hope, change and unity for a country who BELIEVED….he betrayed ALL of US! Not Blue Collar, Not Rich, Not Republican, Not Christian, Not Liberal but AMERICA! He Lied To All of Us and will continue to. Transparency? Both parties stink, and as for your childish name calling, that has already been done by your equally childish president. Some Uniter! The International World despises him, name One country that welcomes him OR Us?! We were better off when the world disliked Bush for his “Cowboy” attitude.

  • marcia

    Stop using rhetoric from uninformed television Ted Baxters who read copy written by recent Liberal Arts Grads from NYU.

  • inIA2010

    Oh my, really? So your rebuttal is to do something similar? Rhetoric with outdated refrences using stereotypes fed to you by pseudo-news sources?

  • View From The Left

    So you think that my Screenname indicates a “lost cause”? Well, Marcia, here’s something a right-wingnut like you should appreciate:

    “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (I Timothy 2:11-14)

    Got it? If not, go ask a man to explain it to you!

  • brickman

    (Knock) Benny, (Knock) Benny, (Knock) Benny

  • rockribbedrushy

    Not being a Christian Believer, it is not surprising that you do not know the meaning of this verse, eh?

  • rockribbedrushy

    The Koch Brothers? Is that the best you can come up with? Coming from a More Government, More Tax and More Regulation party member, I guess so.

  • rockribbedrushy

    Just watch the Boehner-Nyquist-Rove Axis of Evil swoop into New Jersey as they did in Virginia. Maybe we will get our version of McAuliffe in Congress, eh?

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