GOP Primary in First CD Seat Turns Ugly
The four-way Republican congressional primary in a heavily Democratic New Jersey district has turned ugly, with two candidates flinging accusations of memory problems and blackmail at each other.
Former Collingswood school board member Claire Gustafson and former NFL player Garry Cobb have gone on the offensive in the race for the 1st Congressional District seat covering Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties.
Gustafson has questioned Cobb's fitness for office because he has sued the league over concussions and said in a court filing that he has "various neurological impacts." And she routinely refers to him as a "former Dallas Cowboy," something designed to make him seem like a traitor in an area close to Philadelphia, where Cobb is a sports radio talk show host. During an 11-year career, Cobb played linebacker for the Cowboys as well as the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions.
Cobb told the Courier-Post in April that he didn't have any symptoms of brain problems. That seems to contradict what he said in 2012, both in the legal filing and in an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News, when he said he has some memory problems. He told the Daily News his memory loss was minor, but he was concerned it could worsen considering other former players had dementia.
Cobb has fired back on other fronts. On a Twitter account and website, Cobb's campaign accused Gustafson's campaign consultant Steve Kush of trying to blackmail him by threatening, through an intermediary, to release damaging information if Cobb didn't drop out of the race.
Kush said he told a "mutual friend" about opposition research on Cobb but didn't make any threats.
"'Blackmailed' is absolutely ridiculous," Kush said. "For some little snot-nosed punk in the Cobb campaign to even make such an accusation is preposterous."
Gustafson's campaign has provided reporters with publicly available documents about some of Cobb's past financial problems. Kush said he intends to use that information in news releases between now and the primary.
Two other candidates are also in the race: real estate agent Gerald McManus and commercial food equipment repairman Lee Lucas. Both have focused on jobs, with McManus saying the FairTax, a national sales tax, should replace the income tax and Lucas calling for tariffs on products imported from China, a crackdown on immigrants in the country illegally and tighter restrictions on the number of legal immigrants.
The election has been low budget so far. None of the four Republicans had reported raising $5,000 by April 15, though Gustafson said she expects to raise enough by the election to send direct mail and air some TV ads.
There are two elections on the same ballot. One is for a full term in Congress starting in January. The other is a special election to complete the term of Rep. Rob Andrews, a Democrat who resigned this year to work for a law firm, and serve from November until January.
None of the Republican candidates submitted petitions to run in the special election. Lucas says state Republican leaders neglected to tell them about it. So in addition to asking for votes in the primary, most of the candidates are asking supporters to write their names on the ballot for the special election.
Whoever emerges from the Republican primary June 3 will face tough odds in the November general election in a district that heavily favors Democrats. Andrews and most other area Democratic officials have endorsed state Sen. Donald Norcross, whose brother is Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, who is also majority owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Norcross is facing Logan Township Mayor Frank Minor and graduate student Frank Broomell in the Democratic primary.
The Republican candidates believe they could have appeal as outsiders despite being in a heavily Democratic district and at a major fundraising disadvantage, especially if Norcross wins the primary.
"The average person is fed up with business as usual from Washington and our elected officials," McManus said.
"The Democratic constituency might just be a little tired of it," Gustafson said.
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