NJ congressman lends own campaign $235K in face-off with underfunded newcomer
A New Jersey congressman who is the brother of one of the state's most powerful political figures is digging into his own pockets to fend off a challenge from a political newcomer with little money to compete.
Democratic primary voters in southern New Jersey go to the polls Tuesday to decide between U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, who is seeking a second full term and is favored to win, and political newcomer and former IBM consultant Alex Law.
Norcross, a former electrician, state lawmaker and brother of insurance executive George Norcross, has loaned about $235,000 of his own money to his campaign. He's also spent about $100,000 during the last couple of weeks on 30-second TV ads in the Philadelphia media market. His campaign says it shows he is willing to run a tough race.
"He has earned broad support from progressive organizations, and he owes it to supporters to run a sophisticated, aggressive campaign and to fight just as hard on behalf of South Jersey in Washington," the campaign said in a statement.
A political campaign expert says the spending shows Norcross wants to assure there's no chance of embarrassment.
"I think what this kind of spending shows is that the Norcross campaign is taking the race seriously," said Ben Dworkin, an assistant political science professor at Rider University. "It doesn't mean they are worried about losing, but they do not want to ignore the potential for any kind of embarrassment."
The contest also is the only New Jersey congressional primary with outside cash pouring in, mostly to help Norcross.
Norcross has been the beneficiary of nearly $215,000 in spending from Patriot Majority USA, an independent expenditure group that doesn't disclose its donors and has given only to his campaign so far this election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
That group also supported Norcross in 2014 along with Senate Democratic candidates. It also paid for ads opposing Senate and House Republicans. Patriot Majority did not return a message seeking comment.
Law benefited from about $10,000 in spending from a group called Blue America PAC, whose donors included California and Massachusetts residents. The group opposed Republican Senate candidates and backed Democrats in 2014. It also is backing a Democratic candidate in a New York House race.
Howie Klein, the treasurer for Blue America PAC, said the group supports progressive candidates and is funding Law because his grassroots network was impressive.
Norcross won a special election to fill the post after Democratic U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews resigned in 2014. Norcross won the seat again that year, beating his primary and Republican opponents handily. In the general election he loaned his campaign about $150,000.
The race for campaign cash is not close. Norcross brought in about $1.5 million, spending nearly $1 million so far, according to Federal Election Commission records, while Law brought in about $67,000 and spent about $56,000.
Law dismisses the disparity, saying his lower haul will translate to more votes for fewer dollars spent.
"Our cost per vote is very likely to be 20 times less than theirs," Law said. "We're thinking about this in ways no one else is. It's the skill set we need in Washington."
The race has gotten personal. Law attacks the congressman as a "machine politician" for his connections to the party's establishment and his influential brother, while Norcross cited a quote from Law's father as a sign he's anti-union.
Organizers canceled a debate set for Thursday after the candidates met for a forum Tuesday.
The campaign featured competing endorsements, with the edge going to Norcross, who won the backing of President Barack Obama along with the state's party leaders and other elected officials.
Law won the support of the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial page, which called his candidacy a departure from the "entrenched political establishment."
Republican Bob Patterson, who is unopposed, will face the winner in the fall general election.
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