MOUNT LAUREL – Branding U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) a career politician, retired Eagles football star Jun Runyan launched his campaign for Congress in the 3rd District tonight in his hometown by positioning himself as the embodiment of midwestern values and as an outsider to the political system.
“How are qualified politicians running this country now?” he asked the crowd here in the ballroom of the Westin. “Whoever said you need to be a lifetime politician to be a congressman? I’m qualified because I care.”
Moments earlier, double doors opened.
The massive Runyan walked into the crowd with his wife and three children, gripped the hand of state Sen. Phil Haines (R-Mount Holly) and climbed onto the makeshift stage to joyous applause.
A 36-year old working values product of factory town Flint, Michigan, Runyan said government is the problem. Too big. Too many taxes.
“He spent 16 years in Trenton, and implemented the disastrous agendas of McGreevey and Corzine,” Runyan said to huge applause, echoing a double reference to two troubled Democratic governors prized last year by an ultimately victorious Christie over the latter.
When Runyan mentioned Christie, the crowd erupted again.
“(Adler) He taxed and spent to near bankruptcy, and I believe he is responsible for the huge mess Gov. Christie is trying to clean up right.”
The word “Pelosi” was circulating derisively in the audience before Runyan arrived and he was 15 minutes into his 20 minute remarks before taking a crack at the poll worn Speaker of the House from San Francisco.
“His first vote as a congressman was to elect Nancy Pelosi speaker of the house,” declared Runyan.
Cheers and jeers.
Cheers for Runyan. Jeers for Pelosi-Adler.
“He voted for the one trillion stimulus plan that cost us jobs didn’t create jobs… and he voted for cap and trade,” said the candidate.
Adler sits in a congressional seat that was kept warm by Republicans for 140 years. With the crowd of 400 appropriately revved, Runyan boomed a line lifted from heavyweight champ Joe Louis and directed it at the freshman congressman he hopes to dismantle, “You can run but you can’t hide.”
It was a theme introduced earlier in the evening in an email released by the Democratic State Commitee.
“Since first announcing interest in the race a few months ago, Jon Runyan has been hiding from the press while trying to privately impress party bosses, and taking advantage of thousands of dollars in tax breaks meant for hard-working farmers,” said Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski.
“Meanwhile Congressman Adler has hosted more than 80 public events and town halls. Congressman Adler has proven that he is not afraid to buck his party or make the tough choices that South Jersey residents want to see in Washington.”
The Runyan crowd at the Westin was a mix of elderly – “just got Jon Runyan’s autograph” one senior beamed – and determined -looking young GOP activists.
Pro-second amendment, against gay marriage, Runyan describes himself as pro-choice – with exceptions. He does not believe in taxpayer-funded abortions.
His handlers say he shook off the dumb jock tag at the outset, impressing Republican rank-and-filers not only with a down-to-earth demeanor but his intelligence.
Having launched him today, the plan now is to get a campaign-mode Runyan into the district: onto the military bases and boardwalks, Fort Dix and Surf City, Oyster Creek and the fishing boats off LBI.
“He’ll be embarking on a listening tour,” said campaign guru Chris Russell.
And he has a primary. Former Tabernacle Committeeman Justin Murphy also plans to kick off his own campaign this week.
They’re not putting a dollar amount on what he’ll contribute to his run against Adler, but Haines in his build-up said Runyan is prepared to spend his own money to beat Adler if he must.
“People have a negative perception of self-funders,” explained Russell, standing near Runyan as the former football star was interviewed by NJN’s Jerry Henry. “Jon wants to raise money the traditional way. If his money’s required, he’s going to be there. This is not a life experience. He wants to run and win.”
The event was unadorned.
There were no gongs of speaker-intensified power to announce Runyan.
Haines stood on a stage in the ballroom at a podium in front of a small, square “Jon Runyan” sign.
“He led the Eagles to the Superbowl,” said the senator.
The remark recieved at least one stadium-honed shout of recognition.
But when Haines lit into Adler, the audience roared.
“We’ve seen him in Congress move over to the political right to cover a record of higher taxes and sky-rocketing debt,” said Haines. “How can we rely on him to be an independent voice?”
Then he added, “Who can tell Jon Runyan what to do?”
“I’d like to see Nancy Pelosi try,” said a man near the stage.
A woman brandishing a sign at the end of Runyan’s speech, happy, asked a face in the crowd, “Where were you on Tuesday?”
The smile was gone suddenly.
It was a pointed question.
“Watching Chris Chrstie’s budget address,” was the reply.
She backed down.
“Okay, that’s okay,” she said. “That’s a good excuse. Probably the only answer that will get you off the hook. We were protesting outside of Jon Adler’s office.”