BURLCO – Heavily funded Democrats running in Legislative battleground District 8 argue the dangerous intrusion of the National Rifle Association (NRA) agenda on the prioritizies of their Republican opponents, while the GOP – reeling in the aftermath of party fractures, defections and hard losses – maintains an esssential argument of independence from the biggest and most influential Democratic machine in the state, which inked a tax incentive plan now under investigation by the FBI.
Sources describe a too-close-to-call run-down in this longtime GOP district that Democrats want to pull into their column to augment an assembly super-majority.
“Gun violence affects all of us,” Democrat Gina LaPlaca of Lumberton told InsiderNJ as she went door to door in Westampton on Saturday with her running mate Mark Natale. “People are worried about the safety of their kids. They’re worried about being in public places. They are being victimized by federal officials who won’t do their job.” That environment deadens the effectiveness of hers and Natale’s opponents, they argue, while the latest General Majority PAC mailer mercilessly zaps LD8 Republican Assembly candidate Sheriff Jean Stanfield for supporting the agenda of the NRA.
“I practice law; I help working men and women,” said Natale, when asked about the party machine’s influence on his actions.
“That’s what I’m trying to do here,” he added.
But Stanfield’s running mate, Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-8), says their opponents are functionaries of a shameful scheme that bilks hard-working people.
He and Stanfield landed at the packed annual Apple Festival in Medford on Saturday, where people waited on line for cider, pie and donuts while Irish fiddle tunes twanged from a nearby barn. Standing among his constituents, Peters said as much as LaPlaca and Natale want to nationalize the race to obfuscate their own part in the Camden Cartel, as the assemblyman calls it, he believes the voters know better.
It’s a former sheriff and combat veteran versus a lobbyist and a lawyer.
“I like our chances,” said Peters, a Navy SEAL.
He summarized what he hears as he campaigns, and what he represents as his and Stanfield’s counter-offensive to General Majority PAC mail.
“We’re just losing money,” he told InsiderNJ. “We have some of the highest property taxes in the state, and yet our schools are getting their school funding cut. What’s going on in the background is you have $1.1 billion dollars going to politically connected bosses so they could have free buldings with helipads and at the same time those donations are going to that guy who’s throwing attack ads here not trumpeting their own candidates because Gina LaPlaca has been a lobbysit, she lobbied me. She’s responsible for these high taxes. She lobbies for her company to make sure they don’t pay taxes and it falls on us. Mark Natale’s wife works for the assembly speaker. He’s going to do exactly what he’s told and so is she.”
The Democratic candidate-backing mail today featured Stanfield dressed like an old west sheriff along with the tag line, “Who’s she working for? The National Rifle Association and their pro-gun agenda. She got a 93% rating from the NRA.”
Peters said LaPlaca and Natale need those messages because they lack a people-centered action plan for LD8. “They’re going to try to bring us down and they’re going to attack us,” said the assemblyman.
“It’s not working,” he added.
LaPlaca and Natale run as allies of that wing of the party at war with Governor Phl Murphy, but they are still part of the Democratic Party, ostensibly led by Murphy.
Peters threw an elbow at the governor.
“Even Democrats got upset [over Murphy’s remark] that if you’re a single issue voter and you care about property taxes, we’re not you’re state,” the assemblyman paraphrased. “What are you kidding me? People heard that and they’re telling me, ‘Ryan, give him hell.’ I don’t know why he said it. It’s not doing well in my district. People are very upset about it.”
A little farther north in this rural, classic Jersey district, a man wearing a baseball cap in a golf cart swung off to the side of the road in a Westampton senior living community to talk to the hard-campaigning LaPlaca and Natale.
“People are telling us ‘We’ve seen you on TV, and we’ve seen your mailers,'” Natale told InsiderNJ. He noted that while national politics inevitably seep into this cycle (he mentioned the support someone told him he would have in order to block Republicans who backed Trump’s tax plan), he and LaPlaca have a local groove going. There’s a local mayor’s race here, and the assembly candidates want to help generate excitement.
When asked to cite a key difference between herself and her running mate and their opponents, LaPlaca said, “A willingness to do the work. We demonstrate it the way we’re campaigning. We’re pragmatic [about government and working across the aisle].”
Stanfield and Peters have no solutions, she said.
“Their message is ‘send us to Trenton to vote no on everything,” said the Democrat.
Natale was upbeat about the response they continue to receive.
“People feel they’ve never been heard,” he said. “People feel they don’t have a voice.”
While the Dems’ air war was in full effect heading into the final three weeks of the general election campaign season, they also had a visible ground game, galvanized by labor door walkers earlier today; in addition to the local campaign efforts in a key town, LaPlaca’s home burg of Lumberton, where Democrats are motivated, in part on the heels of U.S. Rep. Andy Kim’s 2018 win, to try to take 3-2 control of the local governing body.
Peters and Stanfield felt the confluence of political force on their position.
Yet despite the ravages of a party organization that not too long ago scared Democrats in these parts, they speak with the mutual conviction of those fighting on their own terms.
Peters looked relaxed at the apple festival.
At peace, even.
“Desperate people do desperate thing and that’s what we’re seeing,” said great-grandmom Stanfield, in reference to the ongoing attacks. “I’m very pleased with my record on gun safety as sherrif for 18 years. I had our county’s first gun buyback. I helped with the prosecutor’s first gun buyback. We gave out thousands and thousands of gun locks when I was sheriff, right after Sandy Hook. We put them in the libraries. We teach active shooter drills. Assemblyman Peters actually helped us with our active shooter drills. …I got a grant for a half million dollars to get guns off the streets. I’m very proud of my record.”
As for what was happening in the state related to the tax incentive program authorized by Democratic lawmakers (and given the thumbs up by former Governor Chris Christie) and associated with the business interests of the PAC funding their opponents, “Who wants to be tied to that kind of scandal?” the sheriff added.
It was a war.