In Jersey’s 3rd District, campaigning Is a full-contact sport

Political observers predict that the battle between the major party candidates in South Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District is going to be the closest in the state. Less than six weeks before the election, and the pundits are definitely on to something.

Earlier this week, Democrat Shelley Adler threw an elbow at Republican incumbent Jon Runyan with a new campaign ad. Meanwhile, the incumbent released the results of an internal poll showing him well ahead of Adler.

A former Cherry Hill councilwoman and lawyer, Adler is trying to unseat Runyan to reclaim for her party the seat formerly held by her late husband, John Adler.

Like an earlier ad, the one Adler released Tuesday uses Runyan’s background as a Philadelphia Eagle football player to mock his record as a congressman.

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Called Free Agent, the ad shows an actor in a football helmet knocking over workers, while the announcers assert that Runyan supports corporate tax breaks that send jobs overseas. The voiceover also claims that Runyan “invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in big banks and corporations.”

At the end of ad, Adler helps up one of the workers Runyan had knocked down.

“Congressman Runyan has sided with the powerful special interests, large corporations, millionaires and billionaires time and again against the interests of middle class families,” Adler said in a statement about the ad. “His reckless agenda would actually encourage American businesses to ship jobs overseas by providing tax incentives when large corporations outsource our jobs.”

“It’s supposed to be hard-hitting — no pun intended,” said Adler spokesman Michael Muller.

Adler’s previous ad, released two weeks earlier, had the helmeted pseudo-Runyan blocking people as announcers criticized the incumbent’s stand on Medicare.

But Chris Russell, a spokesman for the Runyan campaign, said the ads are not resonating with voters.

“It’s not the fact that they’re negative” that turns voters away, he said. “It’s just the fact that they’re not that good.”

The same day Adler went live with her new ad, the Runyan campaign released an internal poll by McLaughlin & Associates indicating that 51 percent of likely 3rd District voters support Ryan, compared with 34 percent for Adler. Conducted September 17 and 18, the poll found Runyan ahead of Adler among seniors, men, women, Republicans, and independents. Adler’s only lead over Runyan was among Democrats.

“Shelley Adler’s negative ads are backfiring, while Jon Runyan’s record of reaching across party lines is resonating with Republicans, Democrats and Independents in Burlington and Ocean counties,” Russell said when he went public with the poll numbers.

“The solid 51-34 percent lead in our latest internal polling makes that very clear,” he added.

But Muller said the poll findings mischaracterize what is sure to be a tight race.

“It doesn’t have much basis in fact,” he said of the poll. “This is clearly one of the most competitive races in the country.”

As evidence, he pointed to the district’s near-even split between Republican and Democratic voters in recent election years. May 2012 registration records have the newly redrawn district about 27 percent Democratic, 25 percent Republican and 48 percent unaffiliated.

“It’s a quintessential swing district in every sense of the word,” said Muller. “We expect that on election day, it’s going to be a tossup race right until the end.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also has placed the race on its Red to Blue 2012 list of targeted races, the only one in New Jersey.

According to Adler’s June 30 filing with the Federal Election Commission, the DCC has so far given her about $13,000.

Runyan definitely leads the money race, with more than $900,000 in the bank as of June 30, compared with less than $500,000 for Adler.

Russell said that while the 3rd may appear on the DCCC list, some prominent Democrats are not confident of an Adler win. Earlier this month, he said, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) did not include the 3rd District in a list of 27 seats nationwide that she predicted Democrats will pick up in November.

Pelosi spoke about that list in an interview in the National Journal earlier this month.

Annie Knox is a freelance reporter based in Hopewell, New Jersey.

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