New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District reaches parts of eight South Jersey counties.
Republican Frank LoBiondo has represented the 2nd District for 20 years, but his Democratic challenger carries some significant name recognition.
The reason that name is familiar is because Bill Hughes Sr., also a Democrat, held the 2nd District seat for two decades before retiring in 1995.
LoBiondo, who has held it ever since, is now in a race with Hughes’ son to keep it.
“Obviously, this time is a little bit different dynamic,” said LoBiondo, who hasn’t faced a strong challenge in a while. “We have the son of a former congressman who has decided he would like to be in Congress, and there’s an additional challenge with a name identification that that presents.”
LoBiondo has been leading in the polls, while the popular Hughes Sr. has been on the campaign trail stumping for his son.
“Well I never thought it would come to this, but I now am his driver from time to time,” said the elder statesman.
“If I let him have the keys,” interjected his son.
Addressing 12 percent unemployment
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the unemployment rate in the 2nd District is about 12 percent. And Hughes Jr. says that’s too high.
“With so many people out of work for such a long time, the businesses moving away, the taxes skyrocketing — and all that we’re hearing is excuses rather than results,” he said.
Readily acknowledging the economy in South Jersey is in tough shape, LoBiondo blames the Obama administration.
“The federal government has the responsibility and the requirement to establish business policies — regulations, taxes — to give stability and confidence to businesses, small and large. That’s not the case right now.
“Businesses are scared to death about the regulations coming down the line. Commercial fishing boats — EPA regulating rainwater coming off the decks. That’s insane, that’s impossible,” LoBiondo continued. “And when you’ve got a lot of jobs at stake, and a lot at the economy, these are the types of things that are driving people nuts.”
While he blames Obama for a lack of leadership on the economy, LoBiondo said he’s also willing to challenge his own party’s leadership as he did to secure recovery aid after Superstorm Sandy.
“I was very disappointed that they sort of were ready to leave New Jersey high and dry, and a lot of that is very well documented,” he said.
About Atlantic City
Atlantic City has to figure prominently in any consideration of the 2nd District’s future.
LoBiondo said it’s important to develop partnerships on the federal, state, and local levels to provide help to the thousands affected by casino closures.
“It’s devastating if you’re one of these people … losing your job, you’re afraid of losing your home, you’re not sure how you’re going to be able to pay for what your kids need,” he said. “And to get them some immediate help, which we can from the federal government, will be the top priority.”
LoBiondo, who believes extending unemployment benefits past 26 weeks will help jobless casino workers down the road, said he hopes Congress will consider an extension before the end of the year.
Hughes is looking beyongd the borders of the city by the sea for an answer to its economic slump.
Atlantic City International Airport has untapped potential, said Hughes.
“We have an international terminal. Guess what we don’t have? International flights,” he said. “We should be doing what every other gaming jurisdiction is doing, and that’s reaching out to the emerging markets. I’m talking about China, India.”
On the Affordable Care Act, LoBiondo echoed many in the Republican Party.
“You’ve gotta repeal it, you’ve got to keep the good parts, and you’ve got to come back with doctors and hospitals and health care providers, nurses … all of whom I’ve dealt with, before the bill was passed,” he said. “All that told me it was unworkable, and unfortunately, everything they said is coming true, for how unworkable it is.”
Hughes said he favors overhauling Obamacare, rather than repealing it.
“I think that we should rework the employer mandate to make it fairer. So that the employer who employs over 50 people that is living just on the margins, is not hit with these huge costs,” he said. “All that Mr. LoBiondo has done is criticize it, and not come up with any solutions of his own. If you want to be a responsible legislator, you have to talk about the Affordable Care Act, and you have to talk about your solutions to it.”
Both see need for changes on immigration
On immigration, Hughes said a bipartisan bill passed more than a year ago by the Senate is imperfect, but that it deserved consideration in the House.
“For no reason other than the fact that the House of Representatives is captured by these extremist leaders, this bipartisan reform isn’t going to go through,” he said.
LoBiondo, however, said he too is disappointed the House hasn’t taken up comprehensive reform.
“We have to be able to provide for these unaccompanied minors, in a humane way, which I voted to do,” he said. “I think we need a stronger … a very strong guest worker program, being an agricultural district. We have one blueberry farm alone that needs 1,000 people a day.”
As the campaign heads to the finish, Hughes is trying to raise campaign cash as the Democratic National Committee is focusing much of its New Jersey funding on the race to replace retiring Congressman Jon Runyan.