Up until Gov. Chris Christie won in 2009, Republicans have not had the best of luck winning statewide elections in New Jersey. In fact, a Republican has not held a U.S. Senate seat in the Garden State since 1982. There are two who are determined to change that in this year’s special election.
One of them is a well known conservative, former gubernatorial candidate and Mayor Steve Lonegan.
“In our basic DNA, Americans want their individual liberty and their privacy,” said Lonegan. “That’s going to play a key factor in this race, and that’s not something I’m afraid to stand up for. And all these issues that I talk about play into that, whether it’s the healthcare bill, what’s called common core curriculum standards, Americans are waking up to this.”
A Bergen County native, Lonegan graduated from Ridgefield Park High School where he was an accomplished athlete and set several high school track records. At age 14 he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes severe and sometimes gradual vision impairment. He is now legally blind.
Lonegan has always maintained that he has never used that handicap as a crutch in any way. He went on to earn an MBA from Farleigh Dickinson University, and he started two successful businesses — something he says gives him an upper hand in politics.
“I’ve mortgaged my home. In my wife’s 32 years of marriage we’ve mortgaged our home six times on six different occasions in order to invest in a business and create jobs,” said Lonegan. “I know what it is to risk my savings to meet a payroll.”
Lonegan took a break from his post as the state director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity to run for governor in 2009. He lost a hard-fought primary that included some tough words for Christie, but he went on to assist his former opponent in the general election. Lonegan says they keep in contact and says he even expects the governor to come to his aide this time around.
“When he’s done something that I did not agree with, I criticized him in a respectful way, and we also helped to push him, to give him the backing he needs,” he said.
First Lonegan will have to get past Dr. Alieta Eck. Unlike Lonegan, the conservative Somerset County physician is a first time political candidate who says she just wants to work for the people.
“I realize I could make a big difference in the senate, as a citizen legislator,” she said.
Eck, whose platform focuses on repealing Obamacare, is a graduate of the St. Louis University School of Medicine. She has run a successful private practice in Piscataway since 1988, and has been involved in healthcare reform for nearly 30 years.
In 2003 she founded the Zerephath Health Center in Franklin Township, a free clinic for the poor and uninsured. The center cares for hundreds of patients each month by relying on the donated services of volunteers, doctors and nurses. In fact she says it was her fellow physicians that fostered her new career in politics.
Eck has struggled to get much exposure in the race, but she says if people are paying attention, she believes she has a good shot at victory, despite the media frenzy focusing on the Democrats in the race.
“People from the city of Newark are coming to our Zeraphath medical clinic … for a change,” she said.