In 2008, New Jersey Democrats scored a big win when they captured the 3rd Congressional District House seat after decades of Republican control Now, they are having to fight to hold on to the seat held by freshman Congressman John Adler.
The 3rd district includes parts of Ocean, Burlington and Camden Counties. It has been a Presidential preference ping pong ball, going for Gore in 2000, Bush in 2004, and then Obama two years ago.
While he was a state senator, Adler bucked the party's establishment when he backed than Senator Obama over Senator Clinton in the Presidential primary. But ironically, once in the House, Adler was one of just a handful of Democrats who voted against the President's signature health care reform legislation.
That vote proved not to innoculate him from the Democratic landmark bill being used against him in the current campaign. His hard-charging Republcan opponent, former Philadelphia Eagle tackle Jon Runyan, has pledged to work for a complete repeal of what he is calling "a big government takeover" of health care. Runyan opposes same sex marriage and is taking a hard line against undocumented immigrants asserting on his website "that anyone here illegally should be sent home." Runyan has tried to use Adler's support of cap and trade legislation against him and Runyan wants the decision over off-shore drilling to be left up to each individual state. Runyan was actually in aligment with the Obama Administration's pre-Gulf oil spill, decision to expand drilling off the Mid-Atlantic shore. Meanwhile, Adler took the position supported by envioronmrntal groups and opposed the Obama off-shore expansion, once again putting himself at odds with the President.
For his part Adler has tried to emphasize his opposition to his own Democratic Congressional leadership when it comes to Federal spending.
On paper, Adler has a major campaign cash advantage with $1.9 million on hand to Runyan's $650,000. But after the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling that lifted a ban on campaign spending limits for corporations, spending outside the candidates' campaigns could certainly be an influence. Groups like the America's Future Fund, an Iowa-based nonprofit that advocates free market policies, have already targeted Adler with negative ads.
No doubt in 2008 Adler benefited from the major uptick in voter turnout in the district's African-American neighbborhoods that resulted from President Obama's landmark candidacy. This year there will be no coat tails, as Adler's contest is the top of the ballot. Meanwhile, New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie is lending his new found celebrity to help Runyan raise campaign cash.