Chris Myers and Jack Kelly, Republican candidates in South Jersey's highly competitive Third Congressional District race, each raised more than $300,000 in the last three months, according to reports filed yesterday.
Myers was a little ahead, raising $334,787 to Kelly's $306,113. The two are seeking to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R., N.J.), whose district runs through much of Burlington and Ocean Counties and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County.
One in five dollars in Myers' account came from fellow workers at defense contractor Lockheed Martin, where he is a vice president. Company executives contributed $60,200.
Kelly, a longtime Ocean County freeholder, raised money from developers, engineers, lawyers and county workers.
Burlington Republicans are backing Myers, who is mayor of Medford, and Ocean Republicans are behind Kelly. Early in the race, which pits two of the state's most robust Republican machines against each other, there was widespread talk that the candidate who trailed in funding at yesterday's deadline would quit the June 3 primary.
"On both sides, it was probably more wishful thinking than anything," said Chris Russell, Myers' campaign manager.
"I don't care what talk there has ever been," Kelly said. "I'm in the race as a legitimate and real candidate."
The race is becoming increasingly heated, with Kelly criticizing Myers for making a $500 campaign contribution to U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a liberal Democrat, in January 2007.
Through Russell, Myers said he had favored Lautenberg because he was a Jersey guy and a strong supporter of Israel.
Still, Kelly questioned how Myers could give money to a Democrat while asking Republicans to vote for him.
"I don't know how you run this year for the House of Representatives as a Republican when you're supporting the [potential] Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate," Kelly said.
Democrats worked their way into the controversy, with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Carrie James saying Myers' explanation "doesn't pass the smell test."
If Myers gave money to Lautenberg because the Democrat is pro-Israel, she said, Myers "should also make a campaign contribution to other New Jersey Democrats, including Sen. Adler, who also are strong supporters of Israel."
State Sen. John Adler of Cherry Hill is the presumed Democratic nominee in the Third District race.
As a campaign donor, Myers has given $17,500 to federal candidates - all Republicans except Lautenberg. Of that, he most favored Saxton, giving $6,150 since 2004, according to federal campaign reports. Saxton has endorsed Myers and is campaigning for him.
Myers gave $1,250 in the same period to U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.), who also has endorsed him.
Records show Kelly has not made federal campaign contributions.
Adler has outraised the two Republicans, with more than $1.1 million, including $529,320 in the first quarter of 2008, the period covered by yesterday's disclosures. The money raised by Kelly and Myers represents their total warchests because they started raising money only after Saxton made his retirement announcement in November.
Elsewhere in the state, there is a fierce Republican battle to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson in the district that covers Hunterdon, Somerset and Union Counties and a small slice of Middlesex County.
The best-known Republicans there are State Sen. Leonard Lance of Hunterdon County and Kate Whitman, daughter of former Gov. Christie Whitman. They would face Assemblywoman Linda Stender of Union County, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.