The Republican primary candidates in District 6 -- Anna Little and Ernesto Cullari -- seem to have a lot more in common than they have differences.
Both said the national healthcare reform plan currently before the U.S. Supreme Court needs reforming. And they also feel strongly about making government smaller and boosting the free market system.
Perhaps their biggest difference is over which one is really just a regular person who would be best able to represent the views of the people in Congress.
Cullari, 40, was a high school dropout until a friend convinced him, at the age of 23, to do more with his life. He went back to school and received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Ithaca College in 2001.
Since then, Cullari, who lives in Asbury Park, has forged a varied and colorful career. Along with working part-time in the field of orthopedics, he co-owns an artist development company, Get Discovered Artists, that helps actors and singers develop their talent. Cullari has also, for the past five years, written a column in the triCityNews in which he expresses his views on small government.
He said his lack of experience in politics gives him an edge against Little, who has a track record in elected office, including as a Monmouth County freeholder and as a councilwoman and mayor of Highlands.
“Government was not meant to be a lifetime job,” Cullari said. “I’ve struggled to pay my bills. I’ve fought against hard odds. I think the voter will recognize me as one of their own.”
Little, who received her law degree from Seton Hall and now practices immigration law, does not see herself as an entrenched politician, but as just another citizen.
“I would consider myself a patriotic American,” she said. “I am here for the people, and I pride myself as a people’s candidate.”
She served as mayor of Highlands from 2008 to 2010, and she ran for Congress in 2010, losing to U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the district’s Democratic incumbent. Pallone is unchallenged on the Democratic primary ticket this year.
Little believes that “jobs will only be created in the private sector.” She said that as mayor she reduced discretionary spending by making deals with unions. “If you’re forthright with union leadership,” she said, “they’re forthright with you.”
Cullari drew on work by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, in drafting his plan to create jobs by broadening the tax base and lowering taxes. He believes that if the United States has the lowest taxes, companies will want to repatriate their profits here. Then states will compete to attract businesses and that will spur job creation.
“The less significant the government is, the more significant the individual is,” Cullari said, echoing the philosophical sentiments of some libertarians. “I’m a free market guy.”
Cullari associates unemployment in the 6th with the national healthcare reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
“If businesses are hesitant to keep their employees because of the cost of Obamacare, it makes sense that they’re going to lay off people,” Cullari said.
Cullari’s misgivings with healthcare also stem from what he sees as deep, systemic problems: the over-medication of children, ineffective treatments and the influence of pharmaceutical companies on politicians -- another observation he borrows from the Cato Institute.
Like Cullari, Little said healthcare is the most important issue in the district. She favors repealing the healthcare reform law because it limits the freedom of the American people.
“Most doctors I speak with would like to see us move away from the managed care system,” she said. “Access to healthcare is most reduced right now because of the economy. Those who are unemployed do not have access to healthcare because of the employer-provided system.”
Cullari said he would like to make sure that “the best treatments people can get are available in the free market.” Likewise, Little is in favor of looking at “free market solutions” to healthcare.
Little’s belief in the free market may only be matched by her faith in the primacy of the Constitution.
“We forget to look at that document sometimes,” she said.
All eyes were on the 6th District race two years ago as Little was the first Tea Party candidate given a chance at winning a federal office in New Jersey’s general election in 2010, but she did not far as well as some pundits had predicted and lagged behind Pallone by about 10 percentage points.
This time around, Little again has Tea Party backing, having been endorsed by four local organizations, as well as the party line in Middlesex County.
Cullari, on the other hand, received the party line in Monmouth County and the endorsement of Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth).