In New Jersey's 2d District, LoBiondo foe tries a new tack
By Jacqueline L. Urgo
Inquirer Staff Writer
Gary Stein keeps coming at U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo from new directions.
In 2008, the resident of Mullica Township, Atlantic County, ran as an
independent hoping to unseat the Republican powerhouse then seeking his
eighth term in New Jersey's Second Congressional District.
This time, Stein - who previously was a Republican himself - is
opposing LoBiondo as a Democrat, but without the party's financial
backing. He sold his favorite car to help pay campaign expenses, he
"I'm the little guy up against a lumbering giant, but this is the
only avenue open to me to try and make a change," said Stein, 54, who
operates an office-cleaning business and has relied mostly on the
Internet and talk radio to discuss his views.
"My fundamental gripe is that LoBiondo votes one way and tells his
constituency something else. They don't know his true position on a lot
of key issues," Stein said.
He claims that the congressman's votes have contradicted his public
stands in favor of term limits and against offshore oil exploration, a
contention LoBiondo denies.
The incumbent has kept a relatively low profile in the
David-and-Goliath race. The last time they faced off, LoBiondo pulled
down 167,701 votes compared with Stein's 1,312. The Republican has
received about 60 percent of the popular vote in each of his elections
LoBiondo, 64, who lives in Ventnor, has spent little on advertising.
Nor has he accepted invitations to debate his challengers, who also
include the Constitution Party's Peter F. Boyle, of Millville; Vitov
Valdes-Munoz, an American Labor Party representative from Vineland; and
independent Mark Lovett, of Ventnor.
Despite amassing a $1.1 million war chest, his campaign reported last
month that it had spent only about $100,000. (Stein said his campaign
has received no donations.) LoBiondo has mostly attended Republican
rallies to support other candidates inside and outside of the district.
Without events where he can confront LoBiondo face-to-face - and with
no neutral political organizations willing to commit to "empty chair"
forums where Stein could proffer his views on LoBiondo without the
incumbent in attendance - Stein has had little opportunity to publicize
LoBiondo's voting record and an ambitious public schedule that has
him attending up to a half-dozen events a day in the district have made
his stands well-known. On a given Saturday, even in noncampaign years,
he may attend everything from the ribbon-cutting for a motorsports park
to a pancake breakfast or chicken dinner.
"From the time I was first elected to the county freeholder board and
then the state Assembly, I've always thought that it's important to let
the residents of my district know that I am available, accessible, and
approachable," said LoBiondo, who has garnered endorsements from groups
such as the Sierra Club and the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police.
The Republican grew up in Deerfield Township, Cumberland County,
working in his family's truck farming business. He served as a
Cumberland County Freeholder for two years before being elected to the
New Jersey Assembly in 1988.
The Second District - geographically, the largest in the state -
includes all of Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland Counties, and
portions of Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by only about 6,600 voters in
Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland Counties combined, but by a 2-1 ratio
in the other areas. The majority of voters, however, are nonaffiliated.
LoBiondo first ran for Congress in 1992 against William J. Hughes,
and was defeated by the venerable Democrat. When Hughes retired from
elected politics in 1994, LoBiondo got a second chance. He now serves as
a member of the House Armed Forces Committee and Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee. He also belongs to the relatively moderate
Republican Main Street Partnership.
He did not support President George W. Bush's Troubled Asset Relief
Program (TARP), signed into law in 2008 to address the subprime-mortgage
crisis, and he was against President Obama's auto-industry bailout.
LoBiondo also opposed the Obama stimulus package and health-care bill.
Unemployment rates are higher than the national average in the heart
of the Second District, in Cape May and Cumberland Counties, and jobless
numbers have increased in Atlantic County as the casino industry
continues to falter.
Voters' concerns are "jobs, jobs, jobs, the economy and spending, and jobs, jobs, jobs," LoBiondo said.
He called it "egregious" that businesses do not know precisely what
the federal tax structure will be next year. That uncertainty has caused
reluctance among large and small employers to hire and expand
He favors retaining the Bush administration's cuts to income tax and capital gains tax for those in all income brackets.
Stein, who was the only registered Democrat willing to run against
LoBiondo, says he would eliminate the country's "underground economy" by
phasing out currency and having people use government-issued debit
cards instead. This would "open up a discussion" about taxes and how
government spends money, he said.
He also would eliminate income tax for all but "the very rich," and
he would replace state sales taxes with a national sales tax of 10
percent or 11 percent.
Stein said he supported Bush's rescue of the banking system, and he also was in favor of TARP assistance to the auto industry.
"I'm against Obama's spending sprees, but have been and always will be in favor of his rescue of GM and Chrysler," Stein said.
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