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Upstart Law looks to unseat U.S. Rep. Norcross

The First Congressional District Democratic primary in New Jersey easily could have been a sleeper: an incumbent with big name recognition facing a challenge from an upstart newcomer.

Alex Law (left) and Donald Norcross.
Alex Law (left) and Donald Norcross.Read more

The First Congressional District Democratic primary in New Jersey easily could have been a sleeper: an incumbent with big name recognition facing a challenge from an upstart newcomer.

But that has not been the case.

The June 7 race pits long shot Alex Law, 25, of Voorhees, hoping to score a political upset over Rep. Donald Norcross in his first reelection bid.

The winner will face Republican Bob Patterson in the November election. Patterson, of Haddonfield, is unchallenged in the GOP primary.

With the state's most powerful political machine looming in the background, the race should have been close to uncontested.

"It's David vs. Goliath. It's biblical," said Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor. Law "is running against a political organization that's formidable."

Norcross, 57, a former state legislator and longtime labor union leader, is the brother of South Jersey's Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III.

Law, in his first run for a political office, has mounted an aggressive campaign. He quit his job last July as a consultant with IBM, hired staff, and opened a campaign office in Haddon Township.

"I entered politics not for power or money," Law said. "I'm doing this to help my community."

Norcross is seeking his second full term representing the heavily Democratic district. He was elected to the seat in 2014, replacing Rep. Robert E. Andrews, who resigned amid an ethics probe to join a Philadelphia law firm.

At an appearance this week before the Inquirer's Editorial Board, Norcross and Law sparred over issues from the presidential campaign to campaign-finance reform and economic development in Camden.

Law has endorsed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential race with presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. Norcross has not made an endorsement, but said he would work with both campaigns.

As a freshman in Congress, Norcross has introduced a bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and shepherded 12 amendments to the massive defense policy bill winding through the House.

Norcross said his other priorities are education and national security. He brushed off criticism from Law that he is too closely aligned with House Republicans.

"I have worked for the better part of two decades for working families," Norcross said. "I've been doing this a long time."

Norcross, a former electrician, has been on a political ascent since he was elected to the state Assembly in November 2009. Two months later, he was appointed to the state Senate seat vacated by Dana L. Redd after she was elected mayor of Camden. He won a special election in 2010 and was later elected to two full terms.

In Trenton, Norcross helped steer passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, which gives tax breaks to businesses that invest in incentive areas like Camden, and worked with Republicans on pension reform.

Law has raised questions about Norcross' political path and cited a list of financial contributions Norcross received from special-interest groups in Camden County, where George Norcross dominates the political landscape. Their brother Philip is a high-profile lawyer and lobbyist.

"It's Donald that's on the ballot. Talk to me about what I'm accountable for," Norcross responded. "I've never changed or made a vote based on a contribution. I [have] held myself to a high standard my entire life."

Norcross has a healthy campaign war chest and is expected to easily outspend Law. Norcross had amassed just under $1 million as of March, while Law had raised about $40,000, according to the latest federal campaign filings.

"The organization is powerful," Baker said. "They're prepared to defend and they have the resources to do so."

Law turned 25 just a few months ago, the age required to serve in the U.S. House. He said that if elected, he would be the first true millennial in Congress, which he defined as someone young enough to have grown up watching the Rugrats cartoon show.

Law also has called for raising the minimum wage, decriminalizing marijuana, and making college more affordable.

The son of a teacher and a businesswoman, Law grew up in Voorhees and graduated from Eastern Regional High School. He holds a degree from New York University.

The district covers parts of Camden and Gloucester Counties, as well as Maple Shade and Palmyra in Burlington County.

Norcross and Law are scheduled to appear at two debates:

Tuesday at 11:30 a.m.: The Mansion on Main Street, 3000 Main St, Voorhees. Sponsored by the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce

Thursday at 6 p.m.: Rowan College at Gloucester County in the Fine Arts Building, 1400 Tanyard Rd., Sewell, Sponsored by the Gloucester County NAACP.

856-779-3814 @mlburney