Two Republicans are vying for the right to challenge 6th District Democratic U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. in November.
In the Republican ring, a Tea Party-endorsed former mayor of Highlands, Anna Little, is going up against Ernesto Cullari, a small business owner and professional music writer who lives in Asbury Park.
The heavily Democratic district went through some notable geographical changes in the wake of reapportionment last year. But the changes are mainly cosmetic, as their greatest impact would potentially concern the fall election.
“The district is drawn to be a Democratic district,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. “And it’s drawn to protect an incumbent.”
District 6 is made up of municipalities in Monmouth and Middlesex counties. After the redistricting shuffle, the 6th lost Franklin Township and Plainfield, in Somerset County and Union County, respectively. The district gained Oceanport in Monmouth County, but lost nine other towns, including Belmar, Red Bank and Ocean Township. And in Middlesex County, the district lost Dunellen and Middlesex but gained four towns: Perth Amboy, South Plainfield, Woodbridge and Carteret.
The incumbent Pallone, who assumed office in 1993, is running unchallenged in this year’s Democratic primary race. Pallone serves as communication chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee. He is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health.
“Of all the members of the House from New Jersey, [Pallone] probably has the most money in the bank,” said Harrison. “He has used money, essentially, as an effective means by which he can ward off challengers.”
Indeed, as of March 31, Pallone had raised almost $1.2 million for his campaign, according to OpenSecrets.org, and his cash on hand equaled nearly $3.4 million.
Neither of the Republicans has much money. Little had raised about $3,000 and spent $10,000, with no cash left on hand as of March 31, Federal Election Commission records show. The FEC had no reports for Cullari.
“Anna Little has run in other seats and has greater name recognition,” said Harrison.
Little lost to Pallone in 2010, by a 10-percentage point margin, with about 43 percent of the vote to Pallone’s 53 percent. The Monmouth County Tea Party Coalition, the Bay Shore Tea Party, and the New Jersey Conservative Party have endorsed her. She also garnered the Republican line in Middlesex County.
Little originally was going to run for the Senate seat but then she shifted course and decided to campaign for a seat in the House. She received a law degree from Seton Hall University and now handles immigration law issues out of her own practice. Her experience in local government dates back to 2003, when she was sworn in as a councilwoman in the Borough of Highlands. She also has served as a Monmouth County Freeholder.
She said that she has been conducting a grass roots campaign, going door to door to spread her message.
“We’re talking about spending,” she said. “Government spending has to be reduced.”
Cullari, who lives in Asbury Park, has an eclectic background. He works part time with medical patients who need a special kind of splint that helps restore their range of motion. He also owns Get Discovered Artists, which helps those who want to work in the entertainment industry. Cullari writes music and, for the last five years, has written a conservative column called “Justified Right” in the triCityNews, which, as he puts it, “focuses on the benefits of a limited government.”
Never having served in politics is a strength because voters are looking for new representation, according to Cullari.
“I think the voter wants a person of their community,” he said. “Government was not meant to be a lifetime job.”
He has received the GOP party line in Monmouth, but whether that will be enough to win him the primary remains to be seen.