OPINION: Silly season is barely watchable in this year’s NJ-07 GOP primary

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

The argument has been made that 4-time NJ-07 challenger David Larsen‘s blood feud with Congressman Leonard Lance has helped push the famously mild-mannered incumbent to the ideological right, Save Jerseyans. And that’s not a bad thing.

In any normal cycle, these finals days of campaigning are appropriately referred to as “silly season” because the candidates, desperate to break through the white noise of endless advertising, fall back on posturing and hyperbole to make a final dent.

But the 2016 reboot of Lance v. Larson, Vol. IV,  somehow feels… different. Not due to the contributions of a third combatant, Craig Heard, who is waaay too affable for the current climate.

Leonard Lance (left) and David Larsen (right)
Leonard Lance (left) and David Larsen (right)

If I’m being 100% candid? We’ll all be better off if it’s over for good after Tuesday’s primary, one way or the other. It’s like a movie series or TV show that drags on a little too long. It’s the rare film that can stay strong through a full trilogy. A precious few (Harry Potter) obliterate the rule book.

Maybe I’m having trouble following the plot this cycle as Lance and Larsen scrap across the North-Central Jersey district with a red tint (note: NJ-07’s 144k Republicans outnumber its Democrats 118k Democrats but there are 235k unaffiliated voters to keep elections from getting too comfortable).

Nothing new is emerging in terms of substantive differences. In fact, the differences between the two brands are getting harder to discern with each passing confrontation going back eight years. I recently spoke to an NJ-07 resident, one who’s very politically active but not formally aligned with either camp, who confessed to being hopelessly “bored” with the entire affair. That’s not cheerful news.

Things got especially boorish at the end of May when Team Larsen sued Lance and his campaign manager for alleging that the challenger is a “serial tax dodger.” I won’t prejudge Larsen’s defamation suit in this post or even suggest it’s off-message for a candidate supportive of tort reform; I will say, without hesitation, that Larsen’s original answer to the property tax question offered back in 2010 – that he fell behind like many of folks weathering Jersey’s punishing tax climate – was a much better answer to Lance’s attacks from a political point of view.

Why deny suffering from a New Jersey property tax burden? And reverse your own prior published explanation? Particularly when it’s a fabulous opportunity to relate to those who are suffering from the status quo? In other words… why not try your opponent in the court of public opinion? That’s what the Donald would do (well, to be fair, he’s likely sue, too).

The Larsen campaign went to court and, over the final weekend, the Facebook wall of his opponent’s campaign manager.

It’s a head-scratcher to be sure but hey, welcome to 2016. All of this is politics, Trump-style. Personal, heavy on octane but light on substance. No one is getting better because of it. A receding tight wrecks all ships. Somewhere, I suspect, Saul is smiling…

There hasn’t been much talk of, for example, the entitlement crisis. The closest we got to a coherent contrast between the two main candidates is a disagreement of sorts over a House amendment related to the Obama Administration’s transgender bathroom policy.

pope francis congress“This type of dangerous and radical legislation would permit a fully functioning male to enter into your daughter’s shower, dressing room, bathroom or locker room,” Larsen explained in a press release. “I believe that a person’s sexual identity is not defined by their hopes, dreams or beliefs, but by the reality of biology. We are born either male or female and will continue that way until we draw our last breath.  No amount of medication or surgery can ever change that fact.”

Plenty of Republican primary voters would agree with Larsen on this one, but at a time when Americans are struggling to pay bills and believe that Washington, D.C. and their families are working at cross purposes, with all due respect, is this item at the top of any primary voter’s list? Besides the political action committees on both sides of the aisle who use cultural wedge issues to raise cash?

Lance sees the House fight differently, telling constituents that his vote for the Maloney Amendment was predicated on the inclusion of language from conservative Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), providing that “the administration must not run afoul of the 1st amendment, the 14th amendment and Article One of the Constitution” in its self-described anti-discrimination crusade which Lance has categorized as an over-reach.

Enough daylight for anyone to get excited? We’ll find out on Tuesday.

My two cents? Rocky IV without the Russia trip, with Apollo and Rocky sitting around playing cards back in the Philly suburbs for three hours and arguing over cards hidden in sleeves, wouldn’t have been close to watchable. Lance v. Larsen consisting solely of property taxes and transgender bathrooms isn’t much more engaging.

Regular Save Jersey readers are well-acquainted with my disappointed disposition as 2016 chugs along. I unapologetically long for the days when elections mean something (albeit too little), candidates articulate something interesting (even when I disagree), and Republican politics stands out as the undisputed place to go for a real debate centered around ideas (we’ve come a long way from the ’94 Revolution).

We didn’t get it this year in NJ-07 regardless of the ultimate outcome.