WASHINGTON – Establishment Republicans really don’t like Steve Lonegan, the combative conservative running for Congress in South Jersey.
Party leaders in Burlington County didn’t want Lonegan in the race this year – arguing that he’s too conservative for the moderate third district, which includes parts of Burlington and Ocean counties. And on Thursday, a sitting GOP lawmaker took aim at Lonegan, who just a year ago was the party’s nominee for Senate.
Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R., Burlington) called a new Lonegan TV ad “personally disturbing” and laden with “a code word.” She is the second Republican in the state legislature to get involved in the primary and sharply criticize Lonegan.
The ad in question attacks Lonegan’s opponent in a Republican primary, Tom MacArthur, for being a liberal. In part, it hammers him for supporting low-income housing and justifying it by arguing that it would support “diversity.”
As the ad makes the charge, it shows a photo of MacArthur alongside one of President Obama and accuses MacArthur -- the former mayor of Randolph -- of supporting “social engineering.”
"It blows me away that someone could be attacked in this day and age for simply saying diversity is a good thing," Rodriguez-Gregg responded Thursday in a news release. It was quickly re-distributed by the MacArthur campaign.
The release said the housing in question was meant for senior citizens.
“Worse, it's clear that Mr. Lonegan intentionally used the phrase 'low-income housing' as a code word meaning that people like me aren't welcome in our communities or in our party," said the statement from Rodriguez-Gregg. "That is beyond offensive and his approval of this message is troubling."
Rodriguez-Gregg, her release noted, is the first Hispanic Republican woman to serve in the New Jersey Assembly. In February, state Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R., Burlington) also blasted Lonegan as he launched his Congressional campaign, and the Burlington and Ocean county Republican organizations both endorsed MacArthur over Lonegan.
But Lonegan, who has a long-history of running as the conservative alternative to mainstream New Jersey Republicans, has worn the establishment’s rejection as a badge of honor.
“Liberal Tom MacArthur cannot defend his votes for higher taxes to fund low income housing, so he's sending his political surrogates out to launch these silly political attacks,” said Lonegan spokesman Tim Kelly.
"The facts are clear: Tom MacArthur raised taxes to pay for low income housing. This is what a big government liberal, like Barack Obama does, not a conservative Republican. We already have a liberal in the White House. Third district Republicans do not want another one in Congress."