Candidates: Republicans U.S. Senate

Joe Tyrrell | June 4, 2012
GOP challengers fight to be heard as frontrunner looks to November

Several of the candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate would like to remind voters that this contested race is on tomorrow’s ballot.

Independent contenders David-Douglas Brown, Bader Qarmout and Joe “Rudy” Rullo have staked out positions on matters of consequence, but despite their high-energy levels, they are finding it challenging to broadcast those messages.

“It seems like we’re having a bit of a media blackout,” said RoseAnn Salanitri, Qarmout’s campaign manager.

When it comes to the fourth candidate, state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), seems perfectly happy with the silence. Backed by party organizations throughout the state, Kyrillos has all but ignored his Republican opponents and focused from the beginning on the November battle against Democratic incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez.

In terms of money, there is no Republican contest. Kyrillos raised more than $1.7 million through the end of March, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. That was roughly 100 times the total reported by Qarmout. Neither Brown nor Rullo filed reports.

In recent weeks, Kyrillos has even out-raised Menendez, $600,558 to $530,000, according to Meaghan Cronin, the campaign’s communications director. Having some fun, Kyrillos turned up at a fundraiser for state Sen. Sandra Cunningham’s (D-Hudson) foundation, then claimed the appearance “set the local chattering classes on edge.”

In the primary’s closing days, all three of the Republican underdogs remain optimistic. They each believe voters are dissatisfied with the status quo, and will demonstrate that on Tuesday.

Brown, who tried for the gubernatorial nomination in 2009 before being knocked off the primary ballot, said the response from voters this year “has been even stronger.”

“People are still looking for that person who will step in and shake things up,” he said.

Mostly what voters want is “jobs, jobs, jobs,” Brown said. He is skeptical of relying on federal efforts to get New Jersey out of the economic doldrums. Instead, the state could take such measures as cutting the fees required to establish a new business or partnership.

The Air Force veteran said the country is “not doing enough” to support soldiers returning home. Along with their discharge papers, they should be directed to local information and support centers, Brown said.

Rullo took credit for the task force now studying healthcare for veterans in South Jersey, including a possible Veterans Administration hospital.

“I spoke out, I started the petition, and now everyone is involved from the governor on down,” he said.

As a long-time Republican stalwart, Rullo said he has “earned the right” to run for office. With the economy continuing to limp along, he said he would reject such perks of office as the pension and “Cadillac health insurance” that members of Congress provide for themselves.

The nation’s economic downturn amounts to a depression more than a recession, Rullo said, with many unemployed not counted in official tallies while others are underemployed or poorly paid. Cutting their taxes would be a tangible way to encourage businesses to make new hires, he said.

With strong support in Ocean and Burlington counties, Rullo said he will emerge on top if Qarmout, of Newton, takes votes from Kyrillos in North Jersey and around the Raritan Bay.

Of course, Qarmout’s forces have a similar template for his win.

“Things are really swinging around” in the campaign because of issues, said Salanitri, the campaign manager.

The campaign has had to provide a little extra explanation for one of Qarmout’s main initiatives regarding immigration reform. The Jordanian Christian immigrant’s proposal would allow illegal aliens who otherwise obey the law to pay fines and eventually qualify for green cards. The campaign has had to emphasize that this is “not amnesty,” a bugaboo for some voters at a time when the Obama administration has been deporting about 390,000 people a year.

But Qarmout has done well on other red-meat issues for conservatives, drawing an A rating from the National Rifle Association, as well as an endorsement from Jerseyprolife.

Like Rullo, though, Qarmout said the pension and benefit cuts imposed on state employees were done unfairly. “Career politicians” created the problems, but have not suffered the consequences while blaming the workers, the two candidates said.