Generally in agreement on the major issues facing voters in the sprawling Third Congressional District, the leading Republican candidates have turned the race into a contest of geography, personality and money.

Chris Myers, the mayor of Medford and a Lockheed Martin executive from Burlington County, and Jack Kelly, an Ocean County freeholder, share similarly conservative positions on such issues as Iraq, illegal immigration and abortion. They make similar free-market arguments about the economy and health-care insurance and environmental protection.

Both cast themselves as best-suited to replace Rep. Jim Saxton, who is retiring after 24 years representing a district that stretches from Cherry Hill to the Atlantic Ocean.

With so much in common, Myers and Kelly are focusing on personal attacks and on efforts to get the most voters out of his base county. Each is spending about $500,000 in the run-up to the June 3 primary.

A third GOP candidate, with little funding or name recognition, is Justin Murphy, a business consultant and lawyer from Tabernacle, Burlington County.

Kelly and Myers cite the faltering economy as the biggest worry for their constituents - and the biggest issue in the race for Congress.

"It's 1992 all over again: 'It's the economy, stupid,' " said Kelly. "It all comes back to the economy."

He and Myers advocate making permanent the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and providing tax incentives to encourage businesses to create jobs. Myers has a five-point tax-restructuring proposal that includes increasing the child tax credit by 20 percent and eliminating federal taxes on Social Security and unemployment benefits.

Both candidates support tax incentives to create alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind and nuclear power. Kelly also proposes offering a bounty, perhaps in the form of a 10-year tax holiday, to the inventor who first develops a 100-miles-per-gallon car.

Myers, as befits a missile-defense expert, is a strong believer in the ability of technology to solve problems.

Unlike Kelly, he thinks high-tech devices, such as cameras, sensors and aircraft, are the best border defense against illegal immigration. "Building solid walls is not the answer. . . . People will just dig under them," said Myers.

And Myers urges more government investment in basic research to help combat pollution and disease and to spur development of alternative energy.

"We've got to get this economy off of foreign oil," Myers said.

Both men oppose any timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"We have to stay there until the Iraq government is able to keep civil war at bay. We have to make sure it's a stable country," Kelly said. "We should come home the very first day the generals say we should come home."

Said Myers: "When we leave Iraq, it can't be viewed as a win for the terrorists. And we have to stabilize the government there. If we leave Iraq too early, we'll be fighting the terrorists on the shores of our country."

Myers also said the United States needed to "worry about an emergent China. I want us to keep an eye on China."

Kelly cited Iran as a continuing threat. "I'm not saying go to battle there immediately, but we need to keep the pressure on them. We have to make sure they don't develop the ability to make nuclear attacks on our allies or our own country."

Kelly said the United States faced a "worldwide jihad against our very freedoms."

On health care, both candidates oppose government-funded universal health insurance.

Kelly advocates creation of individual health-care accounts and tax incentives to small businesses to provide insurance. He also supports limits on malpractice awards to injured patients and caps on lawyers' fees in malpractice cases.

Myers said he hadn't "seen a model of health care to latch on to. . . . We need some flexible approach. There's not one model that will fit all. We've got to cover the most needy and people who leave their jobs."

On the hot-button issue of abortion, all the candidates support a ban except in the cases of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or that endanger the life of the mother.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or