Steve Lonegan arrived at the Ocean City boardwalk in a suit and tie early yesterday. Cloudy skies threatened rain as he continued his final push on the second-to-last-day of the Republican gubernatorial primary campaign.
Supporters and a small group of volunteers, mostly in jeans, rumpled shirts, and windbreakers, gathered under a pavilion to hear vintage Lonegan: pure fire.
Holding his microphone at his side, he said he defied the odds to become mayor of a heavily Democratic town in North Jersey, and that he would beat expectations again in tomorrow's voting. He lashed out at the state's Republican establishment - calling them "mushy-moderates" - and Democrats alike.
By the end of his talk, the sun had come out.
Hours later it was blazing high over Mount Holly as South Jersey Republicans welcomed Christopher J. Christie to his own rally.
The crowd, about 100 strong, was thick with municipal and county GOP leaders, many in sharply-pleated khakis and crisp polo shirts.
Christie, a former U.S. attorney, arrived on a massive, black tour bus, trailed by his wife, a son, and two state senators.
Standing at a podium at the stately red-brick Burlington County Republican headquarters, Christie opened with a joke about his children. Wearing an open-collared shirt, he adopted a mostly laid-back and optimistic tone, and saved his attacks for Democratic Gov. Corzine.
Both candidates were crisscrossing the state to energize supporters. But these two events yesterday showed a sharp contrast between the campaigns of Lonegan, the feisty underdog who has refused to fade, and Christie, who Republican insiders see as their best hope in years of taking the governor's office.
At the Shore, Lonegan spoke to about 45 people near shops selling novelty T-shirts and funnel cakes. Teens rode by on bikes.
He said his conservative approach won him multiple terms as mayor of Bogota, Bergen County, while moderate Republicans lost every branch of state government.
"Are we going to be the party of limited government, lower taxes, individual liberty, and freedom, or are we going to be the party of me-too Republicans? Just more of the same?" he asked.
He said he would cut taxes to make New Jersey's economy the best in the nation.
Mary Kazmarck, of Linwood, Atlantic County, said she normally spends Sunday morning at church, but instead was out for Lonegan yesterday preaching to passersby on the boardwalk.
"I think he's really going to put taxpayers first," she said.
Lonegan left the Shore to continue a tour that will take him to all of New Jersey's 21 counties by tonight.
Christie's own trek will bring him to 16 counties. He did a South Jersey swing yesterday. In Mount Holly, local police shut down a small stretch of High Street for his rally.
"Our biggest obstacle is complacency," Christie said, referring to his lead in public-opinion polls. "Those double-digit leads don't mean anything unless the people get out and vote on Tuesday."
He looked forward to the general election.
"Jon Corzine is scared to death that I will be the guy who is standing there on June 3 ready to hold him to account for his failed record," Christie said.
Jeff Booker, a Gloucester Township resident who is a Camden County Republican committeeman, was in the crowd.
"His record of putting away corrupt politicians tells me he's someone who's not afraid to challenge the system," Booker said.
The winner of tomorrow's primary will almost certainly face Corzine, who has only nominal opposition in his own primary. Assemblyman Rick Merkt is also seeking the Republican nod, but has generated little momentum.
Lonegan and Christie had similar thoughts as their events ended. Both said they felt energized for the race's final days and hoped to pass that feeling to their backers to get out the vote.
But tomorrow night they will once again be separated. One will lose, and see his political future called into question. For the other, the campaign will carry on.