The 3rd District race is the latest of several in recent years that test the role of the state’s tea party movement. Lonegan won the endorsement of Libertarian standard-bearer Ron Paul, the West Jersey Tea Party and other tea party groups.
MacArthur has the support of the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC and was designated a “Young Guns” candidate by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The fierce campaigning also reflects the state and national parties’ concern that the 3rd District is one of a few nationwide that could switch to Democratic representation, if voters reject Lonegan’s outspoken conservatism. The Democrats united early to support Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, who appears to have a clear path to her party’s nomination.
After Lonegan launched his candidacy on Ronald Reagan’s birthday, state Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, a Burlington County Republican, pointedly rejected the comparison to the former president, saying Lonegan has been a disaster “due to a style that is angry and positions that are callous."
“The chances for Belgard to win are I think improved if Lonegan wins the primary and more generally if the Republicans continue to spend huge amounts of money beating each other up,” Dworkin said.
Lonegan counters that it is MacArthur who is actually more vulnerable to Democrats’ attacks because he has not had to deal with close scrutiny before, whereas Lonegan has been repeatedly vetted during his runs for governor and Senate.
The district is the most competitive in the state. Democrat John Adler won the seat in 2009 but narrowly lost reelection to Runyan. In 2012 Runyan defeated Adler’s widow, Shelley Adler, by 9 percentage points, or about 27,000 votes.
In the same election, President Obama won the 3rd District with 52 percent of the vote, making it one of just 17 districts with Republican congressmen that favored the president. Democrats account for 27 percent of registered voters in the 3rd, Republicans 25 percent and unaffiliated voters 48 percent, according to the most recent state figures.
Overall, Burlington County leans Democratic and Ocean County leans Republican. In last year’s U.S. Senate race, Lonegan won more votes in Ocean County than the winner, then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Dworkin noted that Sen. Booker will be on the ballot again this fall, which could draw more Democratic voters to the polls and help Belgard.
Despite their differences, Lonegan and MacArthur do have in common that they are both businessmen who went into local politics.
Lonegan started and ran a kitchen-cabinet company, and served as Bogota’s mayor for 12 years. He was later state director of Americans for Prosperity’s New Jersey chapter. He ran for a congressional seat in 1998, for governor in 2005 and 2009, and for Senate in 2012. He and his wife have two adult daughters.
MacArthur spent 28 years in the insurance industry, starting as an adjuster and ending as the chairman and CEO of York Risk Services Group, according to his campaign biography. He served on Randolph’s council from 2011 to 2014, including the final year as mayor. MacArthur and his wife have an adopted son and daughter. Another daughter, who had special needs, passed away.
The candidates’ websites are steveloneganforcongress.com and tmac4congress.com.