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U.S.Congressional District: 7

In the 7th, two Republicans vie to demonstrate who's the real conservative.

With the endorsements of Gov. Chris Christie and county Republican party chairs in his district, U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance would appear to be on his way toward winning a third term in Congress.

Rep. Leonard Lance

But before he even gets to the November election, he has to go through David Larsen, who polled 31 percent of the vote against Lance two years ago.

Lance, who lives in Clinton, was first elected to U.S. Congress in 2008, after serving in the state Assembly and Senate for many years. He was known as a moderate during his state service, but has leaned more to the right since joining Congress.

David Larsen

Larsen, of Tewksbury, is running as the true conservative. His political background includes chairmanship of the conservative advocacy organization RightDirection.com. He is owner of Larsen Windows and Doors.

In trying to unseat Lance, Larsen contends that Lance is one of the candidates who “call themselves conservatives, but support the Obama agenda.” He maintains Lance has been silent on issues of concern to conservatives.

“If we keep sending the same people to Washington, we won’t get any change,” Larsen said at a May 8th fundraiser in Basking Ridge. “This isn’t the time to elect Washington insiders.” Lance has been taking the challenge seriously with mail pieces that portray his conservative positions, including 32 votes against “Obamacare,” the national health insurance reform law currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court.

“He is holding the line on spending, over-regulations, and is passing reform that lowers healthcare without raising taxes,” said Todd Mitchell, Lance’s Chief of Staff.

On his website, Lance promises to oppose any attempts to increase taxes for residents and businesses in the district. He has also signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), promising to oppose all tax increases for his entire term in office. And Lance is working to renew ex-President Bush’s tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.

“From the taxpayer perspective, I think it’s fair to say that Congressman Lance is continuing to be the champion of fiscal issues he was as a New Jersey legislator,” said Jerry Cantrell, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Alliance.

But environmentalists are less happy with Lance’s record.

For instance, he voted in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, opining that the project will increase employment and reduce American dependency on foreign oil.

“I’m really disappointed in Lance’s movement to the right,” said Bill Kibbler of the Raritan Headwaters Association. He lamented that Lance once considered environmental issues important, but has become “a victim of the National Republican Party.”

But Larsen has been getting endorsements from the more ultraconservative groups. For instance, he has been endorsed by the American Conservative Union (ACU), several tea party groups, and the Republican National Coalition for Life, based on his strict pro-life views. While Lance does support abortion in limited circumstances, he also got a 100 percent rating from the National Right-to-Life Committee and a 0 score from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“On a wide range of issues . . . David Larsen supports the mainstream conservative position,” said the ACU’s Al Cardenas. “The incumbent, Leonard Lance received one of the lowest ratings for a Republican in the entire Congress in 2011 . . . showing that he is clearly out of the mainstream for conservatives.”

Lance, on the other hand, has the backing of the Republican establishment, starting with Christie. He also received the endorsement of the Union, Somerset, and Hunterdon county committees and the Warren County GOP chair.

And Lance has a large financial advantage. His campaign had raised $651,228 and spent $320,960 through the end of the first quarter, according to the Federal Election Commission. He had $505,726 on hand.

Larsen, on the other hand, had just $1,900 on hand as of March 31, with $15,387 in receipts, $35,711 in disbursements, and $31,500 in debt.

The men are competing in a redrawn 7th District that, by all indications, is even more Republican than the current district. Prior to last December’s redistricting, it had included portions of Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset, and Union counties. It picked up the rest of Hunterdon and parts of Morris and Warren counties and Millburn in Essex, and lost South Plainfield and portions of Edison and Woodbridge in Middlesex.

The changes are not likely to matter much in the primary, but could hurt the general election chances of Democrat Upendra J. Chivukula, a state assemblyman and the only member of his party to file in the district.

Lisa Zambito is a freelance writer based in Hunterdon County.

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