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Ex-Eagle Runyan ready for S.J. congressional race

Former Eagles offensive lineman Jon Runyan is "100 percent committed" to running for Congress from South Jersey - after the Super Bowl.

U.S. Rep. John Adler, D-NJ, left and Eagles' former lineman John Runyan, plans to run as a GOP challenger to the congressman.
U.S. Rep. John Adler, D-NJ, left and Eagles' former lineman John Runyan, plans to run as a GOP challenger to the congressman.Read more

Former Eagles offensive lineman Jon Runyan is "100 percent committed" to running for Congress from South Jersey - after the Super Bowl.

From a San Diego hotel room, the new Chargers tackle yesterday undertook his first interviews as a Third District congressional aspirant, in a burst of telephone calls with political reporters.

He said he was ready to take on a "dumb-jock" stereotype Democrats were likely to push. And as soon as football season ends, on Feb. 7, he will spend time talking to voters about the issues.

He criticized President Obama for fixing a withdrawal date on the latest surge of troops into Afghanistan. He said that proposed health care legislation won't cut costs enough, and that he doesn't believe government should be involved in the business of health care.

The 36-year-old Mount Laurel resident also said that - with the benefit of hindsight - he probably would have voted for the bank bailouts and restricting executive pay, because those strategies seem to have worked.

After announcing they had gotten Runyan to run for the House, Burlington County Republicans had kept the political novice under wraps. Runyan repeatedly failed to return calls from reporters seeking details on his agenda and his positions on issues.

Even yesterday's brief chats were recorded and monitored by Runyan's political handlers, who are grooming him for what is likely to be one of the most competitive congressional races in the country.

In New Jersey, where politics is the leading blood sport, the race also is likely to be one of the ugliest.

The Third District runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties, and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County. It had been held by Republicans for much of the last century, until last year, when a well-financed John Adler, then a Democratic state senator from Cherry Hill, won it.

Until yesterday, Runyan had spoken exclusively through Chris Russell, a prominent Burlington County Republican campaign adviser, about his wish to unseat Adler.

Runyan previously was unaffiliated, and registered as a Republican only last month. Though he's a political newcomer, 13 years in the NFL have trained him well, he said yesterday.

Politics and football "are both brutal in their own ways. They're both very competitive," said Runyan, who has been involved with charities for leukemia, dyslexia, and Alzheimer's disease.

Politics "will keep my blood churning," he said. "It will get the physical thing off me and feed that fire that's in me to go out day in and day out and put in time and hard work. I'm 100 percent committed to this."

Runyan was injured last season and this year tried out for the Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, and Buffalo Bills. When the San Diego Chargers picked him up late last month, he told sports reporters he wasn't yet fully committed to the congressional run. Now he says he will run in a primary if necessary.

Republicans are trying to avoid a primary like the one they had in 2008 that pitted Burlington and Ocean Counties' powerful GOP machines against each other and drained party resources.

But both sides seem to want their way. Burlington GOP Chairman Bill Layton is behind Runyan and Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore said State Sen. Chris Connors (R., Ocean) is his first choice. Others, including Toms River Councilman Maurice Hill, a retired admiral, and former state Lottery Commissioner Virginia Haines, also of Toms River, are seeking the party's nod as well.

Democrats' "biggest hope is we get into that primary fight," Gilmore warned this week. "I say, let's all take a deep breath, slow down, and pick the right candidate."

Ocean County Republicans usually make their endorsement at a March convention, he said, but they could move it up to February to help a candidate put together a campaign and begin fund-raising in earnest.

Campaign money may eclipse many of the issues in this race. Runyan said yesterday he had not figured out how much of his own money he would spend.

Adler already has raised more than $1 million. The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted him in a program aimed at protecting vulnerable incumbents and is closely watching Republican activity here.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has attacked Adler since his earliest days in office.

Adler stunned some when he recently broke with House Democrats on the health care bill, saying it did little to curb the rising costs of health care. Generally, he has voted with his party.

Republicans hope that the anger and fear over a sour economy that Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie tapped into during his gubernatorial campaign will still be directed at Democrats in November.

Adler is a vigorous campaigner and has stayed on the trail, holding dozens of town hall meetings in the district. He has deflected questions about Runyan, saying through a spokeswoman yesterday that his time is spent "consistently fighting to turn our local economy around."