Despite his $1 million war chest and a one year head start, freshman U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) is suddenly in trouble. One year after Adler was elected to Congress by a 52%-48% margin, Republican Christopher Christie carried the third district by a massive 56%-39% margin over Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. Christie carried 45 of the 52 towns in Adler's district, and beat Corzine by over 35,000 votes. In 2008, Barack Obama carried the district 52%-47%, and George W. Bush won it 51%-49% in 2004.
Now the race for the GOP nomination to take on Adler seems to have attracted at least two formidable candidates: NFL defensive tackle Jon Runyan, who spent ten years with the Philadelphia Eagles; and three-term Toms River Councilman Maurice "Mo" Hill, a dentist and retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral who served in Operational Desert Storm. Runyan, a 36-year-old Mount Laurel resident, said today that he will officially retire from the NFL after the current season is over and plans to formally announce his candidacy in February. Hill, 62, is leaning towards running – he was re-elected to his Council seat with 69% of the vote last month. Toms River is the largest municipality in the district; 13% of the total votes cast in the gubernatorial election came from Toms River. (Hill is a ward councilman and has never run townwide.)
It will be up to Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore to decide if he wants to clear the field for Runyan, who already has the backing of the Burlington County GOP organization. Gilmore is riding high this year after delivering Christie a 70,000 vote margin out of Ocean, and may not want to let Burlington have a second shot at the House seat. But Gilmore has not closed the door to backing Runyan, and will probably wait to see what Runyan does once the football season is over — read that as "how big a check will Runyan write to his own campaign, and how much money can he raise by March 1."
In the 2008 Republican primary, Medford Mayor Christopher Myers (backed by the Burlington GOP) beat Gilmore's candidate, Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly, by a 49%-25% margin. Ocean produced 51% of the total votes cast, but Kelly was hurt by the presence of a third candidate, former Tabernacle Councilman Justin Murphy, who beat Kelly by nearly 1,800 votes in Burlington. Myers also had the line in Camden County, which produces about 5% of the total GOP primary votes.
Adler won the seat of Republican James Saxton (R-Mt. Holly), who retired in 2008 after 24 years in Congress; he was the first Democrat to win this seat since Thomas Ferrell won it in 1882; Ferrell lost two years later.