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Incumbent, Challenger in 3rd District Agree on Key Problems, Differ on Solutions

Adler seeks to oust GOP’s Runyan, who defeated late husband for seat in Congress.

Jobs, health care and the federal budget are some of the most pressing national issues in the election in November, and they are among voters’ top concerns in South Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, as well.

So those issues are the focus of the major party candidates, Republican U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan and Democrat Shelley Adler, and the five independents on the November ballot: Christopher G. Dennick Jr., Robert Edward Forchion, Frederick John LaVergne, Robert Shapiro and Robert Witterschein.

Shelley Adler, Democratic candidate for Congress in South Jersey's 3rd district.

Adler, a former Cherry Hill councilwoman and lawyer, hopes to reclaim for Democrats the seat formerly held by her late husband, John Adler.

Runyan, 38, a former professional football player from Mount Laurel Township, won the 3rd District seat in 2010 by narrowly beating John Adler to win his first political office

Both candidates list creating jobs and reducing the federal debt as top priorities. Adler also said she would fight to preserve Medicare, while Runyan, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and is a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, cited veterans’ benefits as a main concern.

Adler called for government to bolster job creation by aiding small businesses, which she says are “the backbone of our economy.” For example, she said, government could require the federal Small Business Administration to guarantee funding to those small businesses.

Runyan said avoiding tax increases and simplifying the tax code for businesses and for individuals would help the economy. Staggering unemployment figures, he said, mean “some people have just given up hope of finding a job.”

Runyan praised the joint McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst military base in Burlington County for supplying jobs in that area.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan of the 3rd Congressional District.

If elected for a second term, Runyan said in a statement, “I will continue to push for reforms in the tax code that will eliminate loopholes in favor of lower rates.”

Both Adler and Runyan called for government to rein in spending to balance the budget. For years, Runyan said, the federal government has been on “an unsustainable spending binge.” Reducing that spending, he said, means taking pressure off of government to pay for its most costly programs “that are driving up our debt,” including Medicare. Limiting the growth of health-care entitlement programs “is a critical component of finding a solution to our budget problems,” Runyan said in a statement.

Adler’s first step in balancing the national budget, she said, would be to cut multi-million dollar subsidies for oil corporations and for businesses operating overseas.

The second step, she said, would be to raise taxes for wealthy Americans to “have millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share of taxes.”

The third component would be to bring down the costs of government programs. For example, she said, “If we bring down health care costs, that can help us reduce spending.”

The federal government should cut the cost of health care, she said, by negotiating the cost of drugs with pharmaceutical companies and by bundling services for medical procedures. Adler praised the Affordable Care Act, adding that “for the first time this year we’ve had more people covered by health insurance than not. So we have to just keep going in that direction.”

The Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare, may provide health care to people who previously could not afford it, but the act places too large a burden on small businesses, Runyan said.

“The uncertainty that the Affordable Care Act causes for small businesses,” he said in a statement, “is something I have heard repeatedly in my discussions with small business owners.”

Runyan supports a plan that would maintain extended coverage for young people on their parents’ health insurance plans, and for people with pre-existing conditions. But he favors a plan that will allow individuals to shop for health insurance across state lines and other provisions that to let small businesses team up to gets group health insurance rates.

Adler lists preserving Medicare for seniors as one of her top priorities. She received the endorsement of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. That endorsement, she said, is evidence of her commitment to maintaining those programs for seniors. “What we need is to preserve the Medicare guarantee,” she said.

Adler criticized Runyan’s backing of a proposed voucher program for Medicare. But reducing the cost of Medicare, Runyan said, would help drive down soaring health care costs.

Probably the best known of the independent candidates running for the 3rd District seat is Robert Forchion, 48, of Sicklerville. Last week, Forchion, a perennial candidate, was acquitted of drug charges lodged after police found marijuana in his car.

Forchion’s main priority, he said, is making New Jersey a friendlier environment for the sale and use of medical marijuana. He said he is running for the 3rd District seat to raise his profile as an activist for medical marijuana use.

“I have an agenda,” he said, “and I use the election system to get my voice and my opinions out there.”

Last year, when he ran for a state Assembly seat, Forchion was quoted in the press as stating he had moved out of New Jersey. Earlier this month, he told NJ Spotlight he resides both in Pemberton Township and in California.

“To be honest with you, my occupation is illegal in New Jersey,” he said. “I sell marijuana.”

He is the director at U.S. Collective, he said, a business that distributes medical marijuana in California. Forchion said he is a cancer patient and does not have health insurance. He supports the Affordable Care Act, he said, and if he were elected, he would vote to expand health-care coverage. Allowing the sale of medical marijuana in New Jersey, he said, would attract distributers and bring more revenue to the state, bolstering New Jersey’s economy.

Frederick John Lavergne, 50, is running as an independent. He said he has the endorsement of the Democratic-Republican Party, and lists himself as a founder of that party.

“I’m running,” he said, “because I’m completely dissatisfied with the gridlock in Congress—corruption on both sides of the aisle.”

The platform of the Democratic-Republican Party includes ending partisan gridlock by preventing legislators from serving on committees that benefit donors who previously contributed to their political campaigns. It also includes limiting congressional districts to 50,000 constituents and listing Democratic-Republican candidates on the ballot as a major party.

On health care, LaVergne called for repealing and replacing the ACA. He also wants to “widen the aperture of access to Medicaid and Medicare” to include coverage for more people. He said he supports preserving Social Security as it is and would avoid raising the minimum retirement age.

Independent candidate Robert Shapiro, a lawyer from Haddonfield, is running under the slogan “Bob’s For Jobs.” Shapiro received his law degree from Stanford Law School and has a doctorate in history from Harvard University, according to his campaign website. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Robert Witterschein, 36, of Brick, is running under the banner of “None of Them.” He is an accountant and has the endorsement of the Liberty Candidates, which, according to his website, “is in synch with (U.S. Rep. and presidential hopeful) Ron Paul’s campaign.” He did not return calls for comment.

Christopher G. Dennick, Jr., also of Brick, is running as an independent, and he also did not respond to a request for comment.

New Jersey redrew its congressional districts in 2011. That restructuring divided the district into near-equal parts Democratic and Republican, with the Democrats having a slight registration edge, 27 percent, compared with 25 percent for the GOP, according to May 2012 registration records.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put the 3rd Congressional District contest on its “Red to Blue” list of targeted races and has spent almost $12,000 in the district to oppose Runyan.

But Runyan had outspent Adler by about $400,000 through Sept. 30 and still had almost $600,000 on hand going into the final month of the campaign. According to the Stockton Polling Institute, Runyan led Adler by 10 percentage points, 49 percent to 39 percent, among likely voters at the beginning of this month.

Annie Knox is a freelance reporter based in Hopewell, N.J.

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