Republican slugfest underway in the race to replace N.J. Rep. Jon Runyan

 Tom MacArthur (left), Steve Lonegan (right) are running for the Republican nomination for the 3rd Congressional District in N.J. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Tom MacArthur (left), Steve Lonegan (right) are running for the Republican nomination for the 3rd Congressional District in N.J. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey’s Primary election takes place Tues, June 3, and mud is covering the political landscape in the Third Congressional District. Analysts say the Republicans battling to replace Jon Runyan are waging one of the nastiest campaigns in recent years.

Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and former Randolph Mayor Tom MacArthur relocated to the district that sprawls from the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean and includes most of Ocean and Burlington Counties.The two Republicans have been attacking each other for weeks. MacArthur, for instance, claims Lonegan is not the conservative he says he is. “He talks about being such a great conservative, but he raised taxes nine times. He increased debt. He increased operating expenses 25 percent, and I think worst of all he was bailed out by the state of New Jersey six times. That is not a conservative record. It’s a terrible record. It was a fiscal disaster.”

Lonegan denies MacArthur’s bailout charges saying the state aid he got was entirely appropriate. “Over my 12 years as mayor my total spending increased only 12 percent, which is well below half of the rate of inflation. There are no bailouts. New Jersey has an income tax, which is distributed when towns go in and apply for aid which is what I did.”

The two candidates agree on Obamacare — they both want it gone. “The first thing I would do is to vote to repeal Obamacare,” said Lonegan. MacArthur says Obamacare is only going making things worse. “It’s not only a job killer, but it’s ruining and it’s going to continue to ruin our health care system.” 

The winner of Tuesday’s Republican Congressional primary will face the Democratic nominee in the November General Election. There are three candidates on that side: Bruce Todd, Howard Kleinhendler and Aimee Belgard.

Lonegan says his campaign got boost with the endorsement of former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and says he’s not worried that he didn’t get the backing of the Republican Party organization. “I’m someone who has bucked the system over and over again and been successful at doing it, and they don’t like that. They want someone who can take direction, go to DC and just be one of the good old boys, and that’s not me,” Lonegan said. 

One challenge for Lonengan is money. He’s being outspent by his wealthy opponent who is a retired insurance industry executive. MacArthur has loaned his own campaign two million dollars. 

Rider University political science professor Ben Dworkin says all the spending on negative ads by the Republican candidates in the Primary could benefit the Democratic candidate in the General Election.

“The Republican nominee no matter who it is, heading into the November election is going to have depleted resources and will have to spend a lot of the time when they should be campaigning on the phone raising millions of dollars.”

A Washington-based Democratic group called Patriot Majority USA has spent more than $110-thousand on direct mail and TV ads attacking Lonegan and MacArthur’s records.

Analysts say the district will be a toss up in November even though there are about nine thousand more registered Democrats than Republicans.

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