As the Third District House race enters its final days, the campaigns of Democrat John Adler and Republican Chris Myers are launching harsh ads and burning up residents' phone lines with automated calls.
Myers, behind in fund-raising, is using his scarce resources on a cable-television ad in which he repudiates President Bush, who visited Colts Neck, N.J., in September and raised $65,000 for him.
In the ad, Myers flatly says: "Look, folks, George Bush is part of the problem." Of course, he goes on to say Adler is a bigger problem.
After reviewing the only ad funded by the Myers' campaign, Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin said: "In a Republican district like District 3, there may well be a whole bunch of people who like George Bush. They're not everywhere, but if they're anywhere they're going to be in District 3. It's a little risky for Chris Myers in a close race to antagonize the people he needs to come out and vote for him."
Dworkin suggested the ad also may appeal to disaffected Republicans who have unfavorable opinions of the president.
Myers' ad responds to an Adler ad linking him to the president - a theme running through many congressional races in the country as Democrats try to exploit the president's low approval ratings.
Myers' campaign manager, Chris Russell, said the ad was aimed at cutting through the noise and establishing Myers as a credible outsider on a mission to change Washington.
A Lockheed Martin vice president and former Navy lieutenant, Myers, the mayor of Medford, is "an effective messenger" for change, Russell said.
Voters in the Third District, which includes Cherry Hill and runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties, are seeing the ads after finding campaign literature in their mailboxes for weeks.
The toughest ads in the race are coming from the candidate's supporters, including national party committees and a conservative political group.
Freedom's Watch, a conservative political organization, got in the race in the summer, using automated calls to blame Adler for high gasoline prices.
Recently, the group paid for robo-calls saying that because Adler supported a program to give health insurance to the children of working-poor families, he also favored giving free health insurance to illegal immigrants.
Adler, in his own robo-calls, denied the allegation. His campaign noted that Myers had supported the same children's health-care program.
Freedom's Watch is running three television commercials slamming Adler on taxes, for getting grants for towns in his state Senate district from a poorly monitored state fund, and for watering down a consumer-protection law in the Legislature.
Adler's campaign manager, Mark Warren, said that while Myers and his supporters were "smearing" Adler, his campaign was pointing out differences on issues.
Freedom's Watch spokesman Tim Pearson said the group was involved in only about a half-dozen House races and three Senate races, another indicator of the intense national interest in this race.
Both candidates' parties are sponsoring television advertising.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running a pair of ads attacking Myers, saying he "supports George Bush's failed economic policies" and is "way out of touch with New Jersey."
The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $62,230 on cable-television ads and $84,000 on mailed brochures for Myers, spokesman Brendan Buck said.
The race is in one of a handful of once-strong Republican districts where analysts see no clear winner or say a Democrat could win. Although the Third District has been in Republican hands for years, Democrats say they have a shot because its demographics have changed, and they are backing their hunch with money.
Adler has $1.3 million on hand and Myers $288,000.
Rep. James Saxton, the 24-year Republican incumbent, announced his retirement in November and endorsed Myers.
Beyond the telephone calls and television ads, the campaigns are running after voters around the district.
Yesterday, Adler held a news conference in a Mount Laurel home where he announced his endorsement by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, but not without calling Myers a "steadfast Bush disciple."
The group gave Adler $5,000 and plans to ask its 12,000 members in the district to vote for Adler, director Scott Frey said.
Adler also reported getting a $5,000 check from Myers' employer - Lockheed Martin.
Adler held 15 town meetings across the district, knocked on hundreds of doors, and is hanging around supermarkets and high school football games to work voters.
"We're fighting for every single vote. We're not conceding any area of the district," Warren said.
Russell, of the Myers camp, said the campaign was tuning up a get-out-the-vote operation. He declined to disclose details but said, "It will be by far the largest get-out-the-vote operation that anyone has ever seen coming from our side."
As for Myers' retail campaigning, Russell said: "You name it, we're doing it." Myers has been hitting Wawas and supermarkets.
"We're everywhere. Chris wants to shake as many hands as he can these last two weeks," Russell said.