The 2nd Congressional District in New Jersey features an incumbent Republican who has served for 19 years in a district that often tilts Democratic in presidential races, including five of the last six presidential contests, the lone exception being for President Bush in 2004.
If Frank LoBiondo survives his primary, his Democratic opponent in the general election could well be the son of the man LoBiondo succeeded in Congress in 1995.
While one political observer thinks the 2nd is one of a handful of “safe” districts nationwide for the GOP, another analyst thinks LoBiondo’s likely foe — William Hughes Jr – might be able to return the district to the Democratic side.
At stake is the (geographically) largest congressional district in the state, one than takes up all of southern New Jersey, approximately one-third of the state. The 2nd includes all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties and portions of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Ocean counties.
It is an economically diverse region of approximately 736,000 people, encompassing largely rural flatlands and pine barrens as well as the high-stakes casinos in Atlantic City.
LoBiondo already has a leg up in regards to one of the nation’s burgeoning economic issues: the controversial proposal for the Keystone XL Pipeline that would stretch nearly 1,200 miles south from Canada to Nebraska. That is a battle taking place halfway across the country, but LoBiondo’s support for the project was one of the reasons that he has received the endorsement of the 150,000-member N.J. State Building and Construction Trades Council.
That labor backing is one reason that at least one analyst says LoBiondo is secure. LoBiondo has captured his re-election contests with relative ease, winning in the last few elections by margins of 58 to 40 percent in 2012, 65 percent to 31 percent in 2010, and 60 percent to 40 percent in 2008.
Last year, Democrats touted state Sen. Jeff Van Drew of Cape May, one of the state’s most conservative Democrats, as a possible challenger to LoBiondo, but he decided not to run.
In the absence of a strong challenger, a national pundit sees little for LoBiondo to worry about.
“We see him as one of only five safe Republican incumbents remaining in Democratic-leaning districts,” said David Wasserman, a political analyst for the Cook Report in Washington, DC, who concentrates on the House races nationwide.
“It’s a combination of weak opponents but also his personal popularity and his close relationship with organized labor, which is a huge player in district politics.”
This year, according to Wasserman, the opponents are a bit stronger than in some previous years, but he still sees LoBiondo as safe.
Another analyst also sees the campaign as one in which LoBiondo probably is safe, at least through the primary stage.
“It’s one of the only districts in the state thought of as possibly a competitive race,’’ said John Weingart of the Eagleton Institute for Politics at Rutgers University, “except that the incumbent has been consistently popular and has won handily every time he’s run.”
And this is in a district that President Obama carried both in 2008 and 2012.
There are three other major-party candidates in the race. LoBiondo faces a Republican primary challenge from Atlantic City resident Mike Assad, a conservative who lost to LoBiondo in 2012.
On the Democratic side are William Hughes Jr. and David Cole.
Hughes’ father held the 2nd District seat from 1974 until retiring in 1994. Hughes, of Northfield, is a lawyer with Cooper Levenson of Atlantic City. He works in corporate litigation and previously was an assistant U.S. Attorney in Camden.
Cole, of Mantua, is a software engineer and served as a senior advisor on technology at the White House during the first Obama term.
As of campaign filings through March, LoBiondo is far and away the money leader.
LoBiondo had more than $1.2 million in cash on hand to Assad’s $394. LoBiondo had raised over $1.1 million to Assad’s $8,100.
On the Democratic side, Hughes had over $328,000 to Cole’s $11,000 cash on hand. Hughes had raised $375,000 to Cole’s $19,000.
LoBiondo has had a long time to build up name recognition and establish his credentials of being moderate. His primary opponent, Assad, is farther to the right.
Assad gained attention in 2006 when, at age 18, he was elected to the Absecon Board of Education. Assad opposes the Affordable Care Act, urges abolition of the Internal Revenue Service, and supports private gun ownership. In addition, he criticized LoBiondo when the congressman supported extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
But as Weingart pointed out, LoBiondo has proven to be a popular incumbent. “He’s been more of a moderate Republican than anyone else in the New Jersey congressional delegation. It would be a startling event if LoBiondo would be defeated in the primary.”
“Tea Party candidates in New Jersey are hampered by New Jersey’s unique ballot line system,” he said. “County parties are hugely influential in determining nominees because they have the ability to give incumbents favorable placement on the ballot.”
LoBiondo did vote to postpone implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and he has opposed gay marriage. And in a region hard hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, LoBiondo worked on behalf of legislation to reduce flood-insurance premium hikes. He also supports efforts to allow sports betting in New Jersey, an issue seen as a potential boon for struggling Atlantic City.
But once the general election kicks in, the dynamic that was in place for the primary could change.
If the general election pits LoBiondo against Hughes, according to Weingart, things could change on the fundraising front because of Hughes’ name recognition.
“I think if Hughes is able to raise a substantial amount of money it potentially could be a competitive race, conceivably one where the party of the incumbent could be defeated,” Weingart said.