The Post-Runyan NJ-03 Primary Landscape

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

CD3There’s already one Democrat declaring for Jon Runyan’s soon-to-be-open NJ-03 House seat, Save Jerseyans.

Who could blame them? Granted, 2011 redistricting took the heavily populated (and Democratic) Camden County township of Cherry Hill out of the equation, making it a R+2 district according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. On paper, NJ-02 to the immediate south is a more enticing prospect (it’s PVI D+1) than the nearly 86% white NJ-03 populated by a large military presence.

But nothing’s that simple, is it? President Obama carried the district in both 2008 and 2012. Burlington County continues to undergo significant demographic changes and an open seat injects significant uncertainty into any contest. The DCCC trumpeted the news of Runyan’s early retirement as a “a new opportunity” for a 2014 pick up. And it could happen.

The ultimate x-factor, of course, is who the NJ-03 GOP decides to field as Runyan’s replacement.

Jon Runyan’s star power, the influence of a win-hungry Governor Christie in his first year of office and a mutual desire by Republican leaders to unseat the late John Adler helped the former Eagles star avoid a primary.

Will such a candidate merge in 2014? One such option could be Al Leiter, a former MLB commentor and pitcher for the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Florida Marlins, and New York Mets. He was sighted hanging out with the Governor at his Tuesday night victory party over at the legendary Stone Pony night club in Asbury Park.

If Leiter or someone similar (?) takes pass, then the bench of elected officials possibly open to a shot at a big promotion is substantial, including but not limited to Mayor Randy Brown (R-Evesham), Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly (R-Cinnaminson), state Senator Dawn Addiego (R-Evesham) and Chris Connors (R-Lacey Township).

You’ll note that most of the names (3 of 4) are Burlington County names. Jon Runyan is out of Burlington, too. Insiders will tell you that Chairman Bill Layton’s Burlington GOP simply boasts a deeper bench and a better history of mobilizing its primary base. Freeholder Director Donnelly was just reelected by better than 20,000 votes along with the sheriff and clerk candidates by smaller but still healthy margins.

The most notable example of the Ocean-Burlington primary turnout disparity harkens back to the infamously-contentious 2008 GOP primary to succeed the retiring Jim Saxton when Chris Myers won the primary with 49% of the vote over Ocean County Freeholder John P. Kelly (26%) and former Tabernacle Township Committeeman Justin Murphy (25%). Again, note how the two Burlington candidates monopolized 75% of the vote.

Ocean’s ’08 loss isn’t for lack of size even though only a portion of it, including Toms River, rests in NJ03 (the rest, including Jackson, is occupied by NJ04 and represented by Chris Smith). In this most recent election, Chairman George Gilmore’s organization produced a whopping 125,362 votes for Chris Christie to Burlington’s 73,857. That’s a lot of votes, Save Jerseyans, even in the NJ03-only section of the county, and despite 2013 setbacks in towns like Brick, the Ocean operation certainly possesses the capability to make a primary competitive.

We’ll know when we know, folks. I’ll do my best to keep you in the loop. For now, let’s just hope a quality consensus candidate emerges sooner rather than later. It’s in everyone’s best interest except for me (primaries = good blog traffic), but I’m feeling selfless today.

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