LoBiondo challenger Shober runs hard in tough district
The sprawling Second Congressional District is New Jersey's largest geographically and perhaps its most varied politically. In its glimmering beach towns, streets are lined with expensive real estate. But some of its inland hamlets exhibit the economic and environmental scars of a long-gone industrial age.
The sprawling Second Congressional District is New Jersey's largest geographically and perhaps its most varied politically.
In its glimmering beach towns, streets are lined with expensive real estate. But some of its inland hamlets exhibit the economic and environmental scars of a long-gone industrial age.
There are places within the district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 2-1, and others that have been Democratic strongholds since the 19th century. There are 9,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, but the two together are outnumbered by unaffiliated voters.
The campaigns of the two major-party candidates vying to represent the region in Congress reflect its have-and-have-not dichotomy:
Running for his 10th term is Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, 66, of Ventnor, a political powerhouse who this year has amassed $1.4 million in campaign funds. He has spent $450,000 on advertising and other expenses, according to Federal Election Commission filings as of Sept. 30.
Lacking the largesse of LoBiondo's supporters, his closest competitor in the race - Democrat Cassandra Shober, 45 - has spent about 10 percent of what he has.
LoBiondo's longevity in the job is attributable in part to his cross-aisle appeal: He routinely garners the endorsements of both the National Rifle Association and the National Wildlife Federation.
In the House, he has served on high-profile panels, including the Armed Services and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees. He is also credited with helping retain key military installations in the region, such as the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard and Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May.
LoBiondo's near-legendary fund-raising machine has kept the Democrats on their heels - some years not even financially backing a candidate.
He probably has a job in Congress as long as he wants one, according to John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.
But this year, even if she is still just a long shot, Shober, an exuberant political newcomer from Ventnor, is giving LoBiondo a bit of a run for his money. Though she has raised under $60,000 and spent a meager $47,500, she is cutting into LoBiondo's margins - at least a little bit.
Since he was first elected to Congress in 1994, LoBiondo has consistently garnered more than 60 percent of the popular vote.
But poll numbers released Thursday by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey show him leading his by challenger 54 percent to 34 percent. He is down a point from the summer, while her support remains unchanged.
However, Shober has improved her name recognition, with 49 percent saying they are familiar with her, up from 44 percent earlier.
Maybe that can be attributed to her tenacious campaigning. Shober, who manages her husband's law office and is a principal in a graphic design consulting firm, early on challenged LoBiondo to a debate. He declined.
Nonetheless, Shober has maintained a hectic schedule throughout, traveling to kaffeeklatsches and other political assemblies where she has painted LoBiondo as an ultraconservative. According to a Washington Post study of congressional voting, LoBiondo votes with his party 83 percent of the time.
Shober says LoBiondo has voted for legislation to protect companies that ship jobs overseas and was against the stimulus that she says saved jobs across the county. LoBiondo did not back the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and is lockstep with tea party conservatives who want to defund Planned Parenthood, Shober says.
LoBiondo says he didn't vote for the Ledbetter act because it contained clauses allowing worker claims to date back decades, which he said was unfair to employers.
Also on the ballot for Congress in the district are Libertarian John Ordille of Northfield and independents David W. Bowen Sr. of Pittsgrove Township, John Faralli Jr. of Cape May Court House, and Charles Lukens of Ventnor. Each has raised and spent under $2,000, according to their latest campaign finance reports.
"Jobs and the economy clearly overshadow everything else," said LoBiondo just before a recent forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters in Stone Harbor. "Getting people back to work has to be a top priority."
He added: "Tourism is a huge part of this district. What we are talking about here isn't only people coming to vacation here and get a suntan, it's about jobs for the people who live here. The economic health of this area is tied directly to tourism."
Shober argues that in addition to tourism and military operations, the region's economy needs to be expanded to include good-paying, year-round manufacturing jobs.
"This part of the state lags behind the rest of the New Jersey on many levels," she said. "We have a 14 percent unemployment rate. . . . That's double the national average. We are really struggling down here, and we need leadership that gets that."
Shober said her priority, if elected, would be to attract industry and return the region to its former glory as a manufacturing center.
The already-large district - which includes all of Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland Counties and parts of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem Counties - grew after the 2010 census to include some Ocean County municipalities.
Now, all of the municipalities on Long Beach Island, plus Little Egg Harbor Township, Eagleswood Township, and part of Stafford Township, are part of the district.
And the locales are varied - from the richly forested Burlington County townships of Shamong and Washington, and Waterford in Camden County, down the coast through all of Atlantic and Cape May Counties along a shore lined with expensive homes and tourist attractions.
Westward, the district covers lush farmlands as well as little towns where industries like glass and textiles were once king.
The district's expansion hasn't hurt LoBiondo, said Daniel J. Douglas, director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy.
"And it's always a huge challenge for an unknown candidate to raise money against someone like LoBiondo who has a well-established pattern of donors," observes Douglas.
Douglas said the district's size presents another big challenge to newcomers.
"It takes a lot of money and a lot of time to get the word out in places like the Second District," Douglas said.