USA Today: Lonegan runs again in N.J., this time without the GOP

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 @ 8:50PM in In the news, News

This article originally appeared in USA Today

By Martha T. Moore

WESTAMPTON, N.J. – Running in his sixth political campaign, New Jersey Republican Steve Lonegan has name recognition, a Tea-Party-friendly platform in line with the ascendant philosophy in the GOP, and more than 4,000 donors. And in this South Jersey Congressional district, he also had 56% of the vote when he ran for the Senate last fall against Cory Booker.

What Lonegan does not have, as he runs for Congress five months after losing the Senate to Booker, is the backing of the Republican Party.

Instead, two county Republican conventions endorsed Tom MacArthur, a wealthy insurance executive and former mayor from the northern part of the state, as the GOP candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, where the retirement of Republican Rep. John Runyan is creating an open seat. Like Lonegan, he moved to the district to run – and brought his checkbook. So far, MacArthur has funded his campaign himself with a $2 million loan.

“I viewed the convention process like the first of three elections – it was that intense,” MacArthur says. “It opens doors for me in every town and I think it gives people in those towns some sense of confidence that their local elected officials are behind me as a candidate.”

Lonegan, however, declined to stand down. With $400,000 in funds (including a $100,000 loan from himself) he is taking on MacArthur in ads whose blistering language is part of Lonegan’s firebrand style.

His refusal to go quietly is important because the district is considered a tossup: it voted twice for Obama but the congressional seat changed from Republican to Democrat in 2008, then back to Republican in 2010, and is now open for the second time in six years. Democrat Aimee Belgard, a county freeholder, has support from EMILY’s List, which funds female candidates, and the Democratic campaign committee’s Red to Blue program.

“It’s our biggest priority this year: the state party and the governor will be down there with both feet to make sure we hold that seat,” says Bill Palatucci, one of two New Jersey members of Republican National Committee and a confidant of Gov. Chris Christie.

Having the party endorsement awards the candidate the best position on the ballot for the June 3 primary. “It’s traditionally been a huge advantage,” says David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. “The (Republican) party leaders know they need to unite behind one candidate with money if they want to stop Steve Lonegan. That’s a different goal than plenty of Republican primary voters, who want the purest conservative.”

MacArthur, 53, who will be listed on the ballot as the “Regular Republican Organization” candidate, recently released a list of 160 local elected officials who have endorsed him. When MacArthur went door to door on a recent afternoon in a senior citizen-heavy neighborhood in Berkeley Township, Mayor Carmen Amato went along and introduced him to voters. When MacArthur tells resident Olga Betz he’s running for Congress, her response reflects his campaign’s resources for multiple mailings and plenty of advertising: “I know you are,” she says. “You’ve been bombarding us.”

When Lonegan whose ballot identification will be “the True Conservative Republican” held a meet-and-greet at the county library this week, it drew two dozen people and one elected official. His list of endorsements includes Tea Party groups such as the Tea Party Express, and one mayor, Walter LaCicero of Lavallette, Lonegan’s new hometown. “I knew that he wasn’t part of the machine, just talking the talk,” LaCicero says. “Just sending another moderate Republican (to Congress) is not going to do it. We’ve been doing that long enough and we’re just slipping further and further back.”

Lonegan says military spending is “bloated” and needs examination even in a district with a 44,000-person joint military base and a 3,500-employee Lockheed Martin defense plant. In a district hit by Superstorm Sandy, he says federal recovery aid should not have been approved unless spending was cut elsewhere. Asked at his meet-and-greet about the pay gap between men and women, he says he opposes all legislation that imposes salary requirements on private business. Asked about the GOP’s efforts to reach out to black voters, he says it’s needed, “but I’m not going to be the savior on that issue.” On education: “I can’t wait for the day I get to vote to repeal Common Core,” the national education standards adopted by New Jersey and 43 other states.

But the guy who vows “I’m not going to be part of the status quo” thinks the status quo should have embraced him.

The state GOP could be a little more appreciative of his past service, says Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, N.J. “I’ve always put myself out there for the Republican Party when it was needed to do so. When they needed someone to run a real campaign against Booker, I gave them a real campaign,” he said in an interview. “Instead of the Republican Party saying, ‘You ran a phenomenal race, you’re our guy’ – that’s what you get.”


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