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The 3rd Congressional District becomes an open race in 2014

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In 2008, the late Congressman John Adler (D-NJ3) broke a century plus string of dominance by the Republican Party in the 3rd Congressional District. It would be only two years later, largely on the energy of the Tea Party, that Congressman Jon Runyan (R-NJ3) would defeat Adler. In 2012, he won reelection against Adler's widow, Shelley. Now as 2014 approaches; it looks like Runyan has had enough of serving in Congress.

As Runyan would outline,

After a great deal of thought and discussions with my family, I have decided not to seek re-election in 2014. Politics shouldn't be a career and I never intended to make it one. While it has truly been an honor to serve the people of New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, at this stage in my life, and more importantly, the lives of my three children, spending time with them is my top priority. As I serve out the rest of my term, I will continue to work hard on behalf of the people of South Jersey.

There are twelve congressional districts in New Jersey and typically the general election outcomes in the state lack the drama that might be scene in other states with more competitive districts. The 3rd Congressional District as seen by 2008 and 2010 has the potential to be a swing-like district. Even after redistricting made the district slightly more Republican-leaning, with an open race eminent; Runyan's retirement in a district that President Barack Obama carried in 2012 makes creates the potential for an interesting race in the district in 2014.

The Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report already has the district going from likely Republican to toss up based on Runyan's retirement.

David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, would point to New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District being one of 17 Republican-held districts that President Obama carried in 2012. President Obama also carried the district in 2008. With an ongoing fight for 2014 at an intense level already in the wake of the government shutdown and the Affordable Care Act dominating conversation the last couple months; any open seats in such districts like CD-3 shifts agendas and game plans going into next year.

Runyan's retirement was likely solidified by his stance on how many in his party approached the government shutdown and their desire to obstruct any progress that went against their principles.

With Runyan out of the race in 2014, it leaves Republicans scrambling for a strong candidate in the district. Especially with at least one Democrat already declared as Runyan was announcing his retirement.

Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard has already thrown her name in the shuffle for 2014.

For Belgard,

New Jersey’s 3rd District deserves a new leader who will work to put an end to the irresponsible Washington political antics that continue to threaten our fragile economic recovery.

With no incumbent in the race, Wasserman would predict a potential flood of Democratic candidates.

For Wasserman,

The tricky part is that Democrats looked like they just landed a candidate here, but now that the seat is open they might be able to shoot for someone who’s more of a known commodity or has a stronger resume.

Less than 24 hours after Runyan's announcement, one potential strong Republican candidate withdrew her name from any consideration. State senator Diane Allen (R-7), who serves with two Democrats in her legislative district, is focused on doing work for her district and serving in the state Senate.

As she would describe,

I have just asked the people of my district to send me back to the Senate because that's what I want to do.

However, Evesham Township Mayor Randy Brown would quickly begin gauging interest. Brown has been a supporter of Runyan and he could be a serious candidate.

As Brown would voice,

People contacted me within the past 24 hours trying to gauge my interest and … I’m honored to even be discussed in the circle of people to even be considered. Yes, we’re exploring it. It is really happening very fast. I was one of the first ones that ever supported Jon Runyan. I congratulate him on the work that’s he’s done … and I can only wish him the best going forward.

In addition to Belgard and Brown, Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7) fresh off a reelection victory in the 7th Legislative District was also originally open to a run next year.

For Conaway,

"I have been thinking about that. I have run for it before. It is somethng I am thinking about, particularly now that the seat is open, There are some positive facts on the ground. Cory Booker will be running in 2014, and it's possible that a Democrat in that district would run with a popular nominee for the presidency in 2016, making it a good enviornment conceivably in which to defend the seat. It's an interesting set of political circumstances."

Conaway fell short in 2004 when he challenged then Congressman Jim Saxon (R-NJ3). The district is a bit more Republican now but an open seat shifts the race more towards the toss up level it is looking like its going to be.

Assemblyman David Wolfe (R-10) is another name in the open race's field. Wolfe is reaching out to county Republican chairs and working with GOP officials to move his name to the top of the list of Republican successors for Runyan. The main wrinkle for Wolfe is where loyalties and preferences might lie especially if party officials make a push for failed 2013 U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan. Lonegan would only add to the speculation of him running by stating his openness to moving to Ocean County and the 3rd Congressional District.

The next name to be tossed in the open race would be Berkeley Township Council President James J. Byrnes. He would be another Republican in the race to fill Runyan's void. His background as a war veteran is one area that could be something that he uses with a heavy veteran demographic in the district.

Republican Randolph Township Mayor Tom MacArthur would also make his intentions for 2014 known by stating,

I’m actively pursuing this. I’m more than interested. My wife and I are in the process of transitioning to Ocean County. We made a decision that that was going to become our permanent residence a couple years ago. I am making preparations to relocate in the 3rd District full time in early January. We’re working through those things and finishing my term as mayor. I’m starting to go a little more in the grassroots and I’m trying to build a base of support.

Like Wolfe, MacArthur has been fairly aggressive with his talks among the party's leadership in the local counties.

John Giordano, the assistant commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, is yet another Republican with name being tossed around as he talks with party officials in the counties in the 3rd Congressional District.

While the Republican field was growing, the Democratic field of two quickly was shrinking less than a couple weeks after Runyan's announcement. After thinking about a run, Conaway reversed himself and threw his full support behind Belgard.

With Conaway out of the picture, two more Democratic names would emerge nearly as fast. Howard Kleinhendler, a corporate lawyer who has previously challenged Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ4), and Jack Fanous, co-founder and executive director of the veterans-based group G.I. Go Fund, hinted at an interest in running in 2014. Belgard would likely do very well in Burlington County since she is freeholder there but Ocean County could be very open in terms of where support is garnered.

For Kleinhendler,

I am very seriously considering this. I think there’s a very good chance I’ll be running. I will likely make a decision by the end of the month (of December).

While Fanous would state,

It’s something I’ve thought about [but] I haven’t made any decisions.

Last week, the Burlington County Democratic Committee voted their full support for Belgard's candidacy and thus time is of the essence for Kleinhendler and Fanous if they were to run.

According to Joe Andl, Chairman of the Burlington County Democratic Committee,

She (Belgard) has worked hard to secure the freeholder position that she’s currently in and I think the party feels she’ll put the same energy into campaigning for Congress. She’s in this full course at this point and time [and], I don’t know where the other candidates are, but she’s in it 100 percent.

On the other hand, the Ocean County Democratic Committee led by Chairman Wyatt Earp are far from backing any candidate.

As Earp would voice,

In March, we’ll have our convention and we’ll go ahead and pick our candidate.

While still not 100% committed to the race, Kleinhendler and Fanous sound like two individuals who are not backing down against Belgard and her strong Burlington County support.

Kleinhendler would express,

I am particularly disappointed with that move (the Burlington County Democratic Committee endorsing Belgard). The ink is barely dry on the press that Runyan is not running again and within 30 days of that they’ve already endorsed someone? This does not help the democratic process.

While Fanous would be more blunt and short by uttering,

That doesn’t make a difference to me. I’ve never been someone who just believes in party endorsements.

As candidates have been either stating their interest in running or their desire not to, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has begun targeting the district and the chance of picking up a necessary seat if the Democratic party is to regain it majority in the U.S. House.

For Marc Brumer of the DCCC,

No one in their right mind wants to run under the toxic banner of the reckless Republican Congress. The only Republican candidates who have shown even the slightest interest in running are either radical Tea Party ideologues, dogged by scandal, or back bench party hacks who’ve spent their careers pushing the ideas that would hurt families. If any of these candidates think they can win on their failed, out-of-touch records at a time when the irresponsible Republican Congress is hurting South Jersey’s economy and jeopardizing jobs now more than ever – good luck.

The prime focus of Brumer's words was likely geared towards Lonegan if he were to run. All the other potential Republican candidates lack name recognition and could be ideal targets for the DCCC depending on whom is ultimately nominated on the Democratic side.

Republican consultant Chris Russell would respond to Brumer's comments by exclaiming,

If the DCCC couldn't even come close to winning this district in 2012, they're deluding themselves to think they can win it now - especially with an underwhelming candidate like Aimee Belgard. I look forward to Freeholder Belgard trying to explain to middle class families and seniors why she supports a big government takeover of healthcare that is causing insurance premiums to skyrocket and existing plans to be cancelled after these folks were promised that would never happen. Good luck with that.

It has barely been a month since Congressman Runyan has announced his intentions to retire at the end of his term in 2015. But, it seems there is a growing and crowded field of candidates between both parties. The Democratic side might be a three way race that could grow in the coming weeks. While the Republican side will be and seems to be headed towards much more contentious race with all the names tossed around including a potential run by Lonegan. The Republican field could and looks to be about twice the size of the Democratic field.

In a district that got a bit more red after redistricting in 2011, a wide open race could take place in 2014 and be a centerpiece contest for Democrats and Republicans both locally and nationally. Could Democrats regain a typical Republican seat? Can Republicans do enough to retain this seat they won back in three years ago after losing it two years earlier? The foundation is being set for what could be a close race next year. With no incumbent on the ballot, CD-3 is now becoming quite the toss up.

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