Elbows Get Sharper in CD7 Debate at the Bridgewater Elks Club

BRIDGEWATER – All vying to be the general election torchbearer against U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7), the candidates began permitting themselves more definitive odes to self – and the occasional dropkick on the nearest neck, as their lines of demarcation grew sharper and sharper edged in the CD7 Democratic Primary tonight.

Standing at the front of the packed room in the local Elks Club, Dave Pringle of Cranford, late to the dance, pointed out that he knew Lance better than anyone on the stage, having arrived in Trenton the same year Lance showed up in 1992. A moment later, after Pringle’s rival, Scott Salmon of Scotch Plains, boasted that he had helped – as a member of U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s (D-5) policy team in 2016 – flip a red district to blue and could do it again, Pringle signaled a fatal incoming attack when he prefaced his next remarks with, “No offense to Scott…” The environmental activist proceeded to tick off all the races he’s been involved with for the past 30 years, a dizzying recitation of dutiful Democratic Party ditch digging, including an especially fierce reinforcing of Bob Torricelli.

There was a murmur.

This was suddenly getting interesting.

“Wow,” someone gasped, as if personally feeling the sting of the remark.

Then there was Tom Malinowski, former assistant secretary of state under John Kerry (oh, yeah, Pringle somewhat preempted Malinowski when he recounted braving northern cold to help secure New Hampshire for Kerry in 2004), who really hardened his core argument at the Elks tonight.

Experience. Heft.

As the Washington Director for Human Rights Watch, he passed more bills on Capitol Hill  than Leonard Lance, he told the crowd, only half joking. He’s negotiated with dictators and helped set foreign policy. His larger than life profile has awakened national interest in the district.

“There’s no question that any of the other six candidates would make a better congressperson than Leonard Lance,” Malinowski insisted, before pointedly making the case for his specific skill set.

The two women onstage made the gender case; and the middle class client professional case.

“I’m a woman,” Lisa Mandelblatt of Westfield said on the heels of Malinowski’s remarks, sending a flutter of handclaps through the crowd.

Linda Weber of Berkeley Heights said that as a banker with technical know-how she knows issues like net neutrality. She’s worked with middle class families on their banking needs. No problem with white males. She’s married to one, a teacher in Somerset County, she noted, gesturing to her spouse in the crowd. She has two sons.

But imagine her onstage with Lance, she invited the audience to envision.

Making a casual reference to a coffee he had with Joe Kennedy, Goutam Jois continued to subliminally needle away at Malinowski, who’s tried in these debates to corner the market on national (and international) street cred.

Having traveled out of the country to visit a sick relative earlier this month, social worker Peter Jacob of Springfield was back tonight, making the case for campaign finance reform and social justice, invoking a too-often-forgotten Franklin Delano Roosevelt party message in an attempt to buck up the room’s resident liberals.

“Politicians are no longer elected votes,” said the 2016 Democratic nominee, who lost to Lance by 11 points, who will not have the money that attorney Jois and the well-connected Malinowski appear to be intent to amass.

“They are bought and paid for before many of us even enter a booth,” Jacob said in a generic take-down of corporate-funded politicians. “That is what we are fighting to fix. And that is why this campaign has unequivocally said that we need to overturn Citizens United; that corporations are not people.”

The statement was rewarded with polite applause.

In an adjoining room of the Elks Club, a game of bingo held the attention of the occupants, and bar drift clung to the stools in still another section of the squat structure, while the candidates heading toward the convention season of late winter mildly upped the intensity level.

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