WASHINGTON – Tom MacArthur, a former insurance company executive now running for Congress in South Jersey, won the backing of the Ocean County Republican organization Wednesday night, consolidating support among the region's GOP leaders, but he'll face a primary against fiery conservative Steve Lonegan.
MacArthur had previously won support from the Burlington County GOP in his bid to replace U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.). Runyan is not seeking re-election in a district split between the two counties.
The endorsements mean Republicans are getting behind an ex-mayor with a more temperate message who can raise and spend significant amounts of money (MacArthur made millions in the insurance business). He and Lonegan, a proud and unbending conservative, will face off in a moderate district that is expected to draw national attention. National Democrats have named the race as one of their top 19 targets for flipping seats from Republican to Democratic control.
"I'm running for Congress to get America working again," MacArthur said in a news release after the vote.
He said a "positive message" based on "robust economic growth," letting people keep more of what they earn, smaller government "that still givers a hand up to those in need" and createing opportunity "will resonate with voters across the district."
MacArthur, an ex-mayor of Randolph, in Morris County, recently moved to Ocean County. Party leaders in Burlington and Ocean both viewed him as the most electable Republican in the field, praising his grasp of the issues and ability to raise campaign cash in an expensive media market. He also donated $25,300 to the Ocean County GOP in December, PolitickerNJ reported.
Aside from Lonegan, other Republican hopefuls dropped out of the running after the two county organizations made their choices. Both Ocean and Burlington GOP leaders hoped to avoid the kind of intra-party feud that burned Republicans in the district in 2008.
But Lonegan has said he won't back down. In an interview earlier this month, as it became clear that party leaders were moving to support MacArthur, Lonegan said the race would come down to the “liberal wing of the Republican party trying to force out a conservative, so let’s have it out.”
Lonegan, who ran for Senate against U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) last year and has twice run for governor (losing both times in GOP primaries), is a talented and aggressive campaigner who argues that he can bring out grass-roots support.
But local GOP leaders say Lonegan is too conservative for a moderate district that has long sent Republicans to Congress, but also twice supported President Obama.
Lonegan, like MacArthur, also lived in North Jersey (Bogota, Bergen County) until just months ago. He moved to Ocean County after Runyan announced that he would not seek re-election.
MacArthur won 72 votes at the Ocean County convention. Toms River Councilman Mo Hill won 54 and Lonegan took 3 votes, according to the MacArthur campaign.
The only Democrat in the race is Burlington County freeholder Aimee Belgard.