With 55 times more cash than his Tea Party challenger, Sen. Richard J. Codey has a distinct monetary advantage in his quest for re-election in the 27th.
But that pot of money hasn't deterred a groundswell of opposition from conservatives who say Codey isn't their cup of tea.
On a recent rainy night in Livingston, some of those detractors filled a music room at Livingston High School in Essex County, firing off a chorus of attacks on the powerful Democratic senator who has served in Trenton for nearly four decades, including 14 months as governor.
"I've watched 38 years of decay and I'm tired of it," said William Eames, co-founder of the Morris Patriots who is running as a Republican against Codey.
The challenger's candidacy has stirred interest in the race among voters from Republican communities in Morris County recently moved into the 27th.
Eames is the former executive director of the New Jersey Tooling & Manufacturing Association and the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce. He's also done public relations for the Greater Newark Chamber of Commerce and taught social studies to middle schoolers.
Eames has raised $80,000 for the race to unseat Codey and had about $16,000 left for the final month of the campaign, according to reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
On the stump, he hammers away at high unemployment, spiraling mortgages, excessive spending, and inequities in school funding -- problems he pins on Codey and the Democrats.
"I remember when things were good in New Jersey," he said at a recent debate.
Eames says he would scale back government spending to reduce the tax load and cut business regulations to help New Jersey lure companies from other states. He also sees waste at the state departments of environmental protection and education, agencies he said could be radically reduced.
Codey was first elected to the assembly in 1974 and is the longest-serving current member of the legislature. He was elected to the Senate in 1982 and served as its president for five years. As the president of the Senate, he became acting governor following the resignation of James E. McGreevey in 2004.
He has amassed a $1.3 million war chest for this election, according to ELEC reports. He still had $902,159 on hand as of 29 days before the Nov. 8 election.
Despite Morris County being Eames' base, Codey has won endorsements from Republican politicians in Morris County, including the mayor of Eames' hometown of Hanover and a committeeman in Chatham Township, whose Republican mayor is seeking an Assembly seat in the 27th . Codey, who also coaches youth basketball, has been pushing the millionaire's tax and touting his accomplishments in mental health. He also signed the law increasing the state's minimum wage and New Jersey's indoor smoking ban and sponsored laws raising to 19 the age that smokers can buy tobacco and giving free community college tuition to high-performing high school seniors.
"For a lot of kids, for the past 20 years I've been their basketball coach," Codey said. "My kids have to work together as a team … In politics and government, I also talk about teamwork and how to get things done."