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Runyan's Run

New Jersey's Third Congressional District is officially up for grabs.

9:00 AM, Oct 27, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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I ask Runyan why the race is so close considering before Adler, the district had voted for Republican Jim Saxton continuously since 1992. He said that even though his opponent is still in his first term, he already had incumbent advantages (including fundraising that has far exceeded Runyan's efforts). Is he getting enough assistance from the RNC? He said he was satisfied but added, "we can always use more." And then I asked him about "Tea Party" candidate Peter DeStefano who, as Jonathan V. Last noted (citing the Courier-Post), isn't a Tea Party candidate at all but rather a creation by opponents to split conservatives' votes. Runyan brushes it off, calling the stunt a "desperate effort." And when I note that the race is a toss-up at the moment, he simply gives me an intense stare (I imagine the kind he's used against his NFL opponents) and says, "We'll see."

Runyan's speech is reminiscent of the captain of the football team running for class president: "It's time for a lot of honest people to put their foot down and to take control of this country, give it back to the people that work their tails off to make a living. We all know we can't do it alone. And as a team, the sky's the limit. With the intensity of this room, it's not going to be a problem. One step at a time, one minute at a time.... It's not going to be easy, but we're fighting. We're gonna kick some tail, and we're gonna have a heck of a party on November 2." Wolverines Rule!

All kidding aside, the lack of rhetorical flourish is a breath of fresh air. Again, he is taking a page out of the Christie playbook of plainspokenness—the polar opposite of Barack Obama. And yet Christie's tough talk can bring a reaction as strong as Obama's speeches on the campaign trail. Even before he says a single word, the governor receives rousing applause while the DJ plays Springsteen's "Glory Days."

Everyone in the room knew Christie had arrived because the protesters outside were suddenly screaming. The governor is accustomed to this and, in fact, it gives him fodder for his nearly 20-minute-long speech:

[Jon Runyan] is running against a guy who wants to make his entire life about putting forward those interests of the special interests rather than of all of you. You can see it tonight. What are they reduced to? To send a whole bunch of knuckleheads outside. [The crowd roars.] You know, I come in, they're yelling and screaming, "We are not the problem! We are not the problem!" Listen, here's the thing. That is the kind of leadership you get with John Adler.

Christie was just getting started:

The question is clear. You can boil it down to this for your friends, some of whom may still be on the fence.... You say to them, "You vote for John Adler, you vote for that, outside [he points to the parking lot], the special interests first, the me-first crowd that says, 'Pay me my raise first, pay me my free health insurance first, pay me my pension first, and if there's anything left for the people of New Jersey they can have the crumbs that are left.' That's the pay me first crowd standing outside. Or you can vote for someone like Jon Runyan...." That's the difference: The selfish me-first crowd for John Adler or the shared sacrifice team, all-for-one, one-for-all crowd that is being led by Jon Runyan. I know who I'm with. I'm with Jon Runyan....

The crowd erupts. Runyan is smiling. And the tide is turning. Last week's Richard Stockton College/Zogby poll of likely voters in the district showed Runyan leading Adler 40 percent to 37 percent. While technically within the margin of error, Runyan gained 10 additional percentage points over the past month. DeStefano, the "Tea Party" candidate is garnering less than 5 percent, indicating either indifference or a negative effect on Adler.

To be sure, the Democratic congressman has distanced himself from the mess and insists he knows nothing about it. When I mentioned this to Chris Smith, who represents the neighboring 4th Congressional District, he scoffed. "C'mon. All of his staff were part of it. They were in a room. You know, the CIA loves to have plausible deniability when everybody in the CIA knows they knew. Where are the firings of all the people if [Adler] didn't know about it? That's dirty pool. And hopefully the people in the 3rd District have no tolerance for dirty pool."

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