BATTLEGROUND NJ: Andrzejczak and Testa Collide in LD1 Debate

Testa, right and Andrzejczak

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – The place has a genteel feel, like a town that could get hit by a tidal wave, and in this case politics trembled on a sliver of civilization at the Southern tip of New Jersey, state Senator Robert Andrzecjzak (D-1) intent on staring down Democratic challenger Mike Testa in the old court house that goes back to the 1800s.

Mostly distinguished by a considerable show of resources poured in here by the General Majority PAC and Democrats affiliated with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Republicans mounting a key offensive on historically GOP-friendly turf, “This is the one Trump district currently occupied by Democrats,” said Republican State Party Chairman Doug Steinhardt, who made the drive down from Warren to back Testa.

Steinhardt said he expects Testa to win.

One key issue seemed to define the testiest moments of the contest.

All six candidates support Cape May County Sheriff Bob Nolan’s continued cooperation with ICE in the enforcement of federal immigration policy, in defiance of Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. But Testa said Andrzejczak has not done enough. “The only support Bob Andrzejczak has given Bob Nolan is a press release and maybe a Facebook post,” said Testa, who noted that by contrast he offered pro bona work on behalf of the sehriff’s lawsuit. “Nolan has not received a phone call of support.”

“I’m not going to fault my opponent for his ignorance,”‘ Andrzejczak said. “I’m sure the sheriff didn’t tell you about the conversation I had with him at the 4-H fair. I advised him and encouraged to keep doing what he’s doing.” The sheriff never reached out to him to facilitate a proffered meeting with the AG, Andrzejczak added.

“Again, I don’t fault you for your ignorance.”

Testa swung back.

“There was a bipartisan rally right next door and Bob Andrzejczak was absent,” the GOP challenger said. “He did a press release. That is not real support. That is not going on the statehouse floor.”

The old fashioned event featured very different entrances by the two teams, the GOP staging a rally in front of the courthouse prior to the forum where Steinhardt and Testa, speaking to a crowd that included the Republican senators’ parents, and CD2 candidate David Richter and local and county incumbents and candidates, inveighed against Norcross and Democrats.

Andrejczak walked up on the scene accompanied by Mayor Robert Campbell and a retainer.

He entered the building amid his rivals.

When the League of Women Voters event finally got underway in the Inherit the Wind ceiling fan-clicking courthouse interior, the Republican candidate for senate – perceived to be the underdog amid statewide GOP dysfunction – opened in aggressive fashion, with a statewide-sized fire blanket for his districtwide adversary.

“I’d like to thank my opponent for finally agreeing to a debate,” said Testa. “This election is about Phil Murphy. He [Andrzejczak] votes for Phil Murphy’s radical agenda 95% of the time. Bob Andrzejczak claims to be independent. But many of you have received mailers from the General Majority PAC. That’s exactly the boss that Bob Andrzejczak answers to.”

Andrzejczak seemed mildly surprised, but also happy to scrap. “I didn’t know my opponent was going to get so negative so quick,” said the senator.

“Awesome,” he added.

As rough as it got inside, Antwan McClellan made certain it never proved as tough as he made it outside before the debate.

“He picked someone out of the fish house,” said the Ocean City Councilman, referring to U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s (D-2) selection of Andrzejczak, who worked on the wharf after losing his leg in combat in the Middle East.

Part of the Republicans’ gripe includes their criticism of Democrats failing to develop Route 55. Lower Twp. Mayor Erik Simonsen – who is running on the Testa Team – cracked the Democrats on taxes, and Assemblymen Bruce Land and Matt Milam took an immediate pass on offering a rebuttal. Later, Land did address the subject. “55 is very integral, not just the traffic going down to the shores but if we have another storm, 47… would be under water.”

Asked about Sweeney’s Path to Progress Plan, Andrzejczak said, “There are parts I support, and other parts I absolutely don’t support.”

Testa took a shot on that point.

“It’s an intellectually disingenuous package of bills,” the Republican said of Path to Progress. “If Steve Sweeney wanted to get this through he would have put them through when Chris Christie was in office.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) was in the crowd.

Andrzejczak acknowledged him.

“Senator Kean back there as well is part of it,” said the Democratic senator. “To say it’s disingenuous, quite frankly, the package wasn’t there.”

McClellan warmed to the role of aggressor in the debate, apparently the consequence of some of the mail the incumbents’ allies launched into the contest. “I was homeless [after Hurricane Sandy] and without a job for a year; my opponents seem to think that makes me a deadbeat,” the Ocean City Councilman said bitterly.

All the candidates made statements of support for immigrants “who do it the right way,” while expressing opposition to illegal immigration.

On the subject of climate change, Andrzejczak said he believes it, while thowing an elbow at the mayor of his hometown, who was among those Republians in front of the courthouse prior to the debate.

“There is no doubt it’s happening. You’re seeing sea level rise now. There is climate change happening in the world. So what do we do about that in New Jersey? Move away from fossil fuels, but at the same time we have been working with the DEP and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

“Unlike our mayor from Lower Twp. here who cut our dunes to put a sidewalk in,” the senator said with an edge.

The question about climate change came of a League of Women Voters’ reference to a Stocckton Poll and Testa – down by double digits in a questionable Stockton offering last week – was ready.

“I dont place a lot of stock in Stockton polls,” the Republican said to laughs in the room, “and I think we’re going to see the results of that on Nov. 5th.

“Governor Murphy’s environmental plan is insane,”” he added, going to his recurring linkage preference of his opponent with the liberal Democratic governor. “Bob Andrzejczak just brought up erosion. Eastpoint Lighthouse is in danger of being washed away. That beach is going to be completely eroded. These individuals have been in the legislature for a multitude of years, and they have done absolutely zero about it.”

Andrzejczak retaliated, noting that he just summoned the funding to save the lighthouse.

“The funding just magically appeared, huh?” the senator asked Testa. “When it comes to the governor’s approach to alternative energy, it’s a great initiative but I don’t think it’s feasable.”

Simonsen was champing at the bit after Andrzejczak’s comment about dunes and sidewalks.

“His ignorance is well noted,” said the Republican mayor. “We increased the dune and in turn made our shore town safer.

He added pointedly, “You have to do your homework when you’re in office everybody. Tell your kids.”

It was a substantive exchange, maybe the most substative and hard-edged exchange in any contest this entire season, as the Democratic Senator found another contrast point. “My opponent said he is in favor of privatizing our VA health service program,” he said. “I would be 100% opposed to that.”

Testa doubled down. “That health system is not giving the service to veterans they so desperately need,” the Republican said.

On the subject of the ugly tenor of these campaigns, including a General Majority PAC mailer targeting McClellan, Land admitted, “The negativity is terrible.”

McClellan winced.

Before the debate, he told InsiderNJ that the negativity of the Democrats’ air war was driving him in the right direction.

“The negativity is positive,” he grinned.

Now, he heard out Land’s public explanation.

After the General Majority PAC hit, “I called Antwan to apologize,” said the assemblyman. “He said, ‘I know, I know what I’m in for.’”

McClellan now seized the microphone.

“Mr. Land, thank you very much for reaching out to me,” said the Ocean City Councilman. “I will never call anyone a racist. But [Milam’s and Andrzejczak’s silence was telling]. It goes to show you where their voice is. I’ve never taken any money from a super PAC.”

On guns and pot, the candidates – most or all of them gun owners )“I fish as well,” Milam hastened to point out at an appropriate moment) – expressed conservative views.

“I’m 100% opposed to the legalization of marijuana,” said Testa. “I can tell you that as a criminal defense attorney, I’ve seen countless cases of men and women experimenting with recreational marijuana. Marijuana is a gate way drug.”

“I’m glad my opponent is on the same page is me,” said Andrzejczak, at ground zero of this swampy district dotted with the familiar red and white colors of both teams’ lawn and street signs, in a nod to the essential red-affiliated environs here in LD1 regardless of party. On those issues not immediately central to a red meat crowd, the candidates stepped gingerly. Wind turbines? Not enough research done on these yet, said Land. “We do need to get away from fossil fuels, but at this point, I just don’t think it’s a good thing. It’s like anything else, if you don’t have enough research, you shouldn’t do it.”

“I somewhat agree,” said Simonsen.

Close to the end, Testa doubled back on the unfinished Route 55, pointingg out that Andrzejczak was in the legislature for six yers and summoned nothin shovel ready.

A deacon, teacher, and wrestling coach, Lower Twp. Mayor Erik Simonsen in his closing remarks after a hard-nosed performance said he likes and loves his opponents.

“They deserve Route 55,” the Republican said of the people of the 1st District. “Period, full stop, as Governor Murphy likes to say.”

Andrzejczak gleefully pounced.

“I like that you’re quoting the guy you’ve been bashing the whole campaign,” cracked the Democrat cracked, who ticked off some accomplishments, including cutting the boat tax, sales tax, and veteran income tax deduction.

“There are a lot of shades of red and a lot of shades of blue,” Andrzejczak said somewhat cryptically.

Testa said, “Democrats have controlled the legislature since 2004 and they have done a miserable job,” which caused Land to remark in an innocent voice, “You keep noting how Democrats are screwing up, but don’t you think we’ve been doing a little better since I’ve been in there?” prompting laughs in the room and soon the debate was over in this battleground district.

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One response to “BATTLEGROUND NJ: Andrzejczak and Testa Collide in LD1 Debate”

  1. Just what we need, another Lawyer in Government. Keep Mike in the Government, he is a real person and has shown his courage under fire. He is working on issues that affect real folks compared to a party whose only interest is to get in power and funnel money to the wealthy.

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