At least Adler, unlike Runyan, knows the play book

One of the more interesting political races this fall is heating up in South Jersey between freshman U.S. Rep. John Adler and his Republican opponent, Jon Runyan.

The two Johns, or Jons, couldn’t be more different. Adler is slightly built. Runyan is as big as a redwood.

Adler is a career politician, while Runyan had a Pro Bowl career in the National Football League.

Adler graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and comes across as bright, articulate, and thoughtful.

Runyan, well, he majored in kinesiology when he wasn’t playing football at the University of Michigan. Studying the science of human movement is not quite basket weaving, but it’s a fine major for gym teachers.

And this year it just may be good enough to get elected to Congress. That really cuts to the heart of the issue: This wouldn’t be a race if Runyan were a gym teacher.

But the 6-foot-7 Runyan played for the beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Indeed, he was one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL. Kevin Kolb probably wishes he had a few Jon Runyans blocking for him. But how playing on Any Given Sunday translates into being an effective congressman is unclear.

Unless, of course, you count Sports Illustrated surveys that ranked Runyan as one of the dirtiest players in the NFL. So maybe he’s perfectly suited for Washington.

And Runyan already has his own gate. The Donkey Gate kerfuffle has to do with a break Runyan receives on his property tax, in part for breeding a handful of donkeys on a portion of his 20-acre estate in Mount Laurel.

The scheme is perfectly legal, and one that would probably be used by just about anyone else in his large shoes. But it is a scheme to avoid paying taxes nonetheless. Even with the donkey farm, Runyan pays about $60,000 a year in property tax. That bill may explain his interest in donkeys, and in running for office with a pledge to reduce taxes.

That’s not to say Adler is Mr. Clean. The guy is a product of the Norcross political machine, which dominates South Jersey.

In addition, Adler’s campaign appears to have helped prop up a sham tea-party candidate in an effort to siphon votes from Runyan. Adler says he had no knowledge of the alleged scheme. But if his camp was involved, it would show that Philadelphia didn’t have a monopoly on dirty politics.

Some, in fact, may conclude that it would demonstrate how all politicians are alike. But there is a seismic difference between Adler and Runyan.

Adler is a center-left pol who appears to genuinely study and think about the issues. He voted against the health-care bill despite some private arm-twisting by President Obama. Adler said the measure wouldn’t do enough to control costs. Others say they believe Adler cast his vote with both eyes on trying to get reelected in a competitive district. Taxpayers would be better served if more districts were as evenly divided, keeping candidates from going too far left or right.

Runyan, on the other hand, has cast himself as a true conservative. He has received the endorsement of some local tea-party groups.

But his main qualification is that he played football. For those who question Runyan’s lack of political experience, he says the professional pols in Washington haven’t done a very good job.

Fair point. But once you get past Runyan’s imposing physical presence, there isn’t much there there.

Runyan’s platform essentially consists of platitudes calling for lower taxes, less spending, and more jobs. That makes for good sound bites, but his positions are not well-thought-out or articulated.

In a meeting with The Inquirer Editorial Board last week, Runyan said he wanted to eliminate wasteful spending. When pressed for examples, he said: “I haven’t dug that deep into the budget.”

Runyan also wants to repeal the health-care bill that was passed this year. He said no one knew what mandates were in the measure, which he called “scary.”

Did you read the bill? “No,” Runyan said.

It is irresponsible that the bill did practically nothing to lower or even limit the rising cost of health care. And the Democrats used sneaky backdoor politics to get the bill passed. That left a bad taste in many voters’ mouths.
But there are some good things in the bill. So if Runyan is going to call for the repeal of a major piece of legislation, he should at least read it.

But in this crazy election season, where voters are mad as hell and ready to throw the bums out, being a kinesiology major who played for the Eagles may be all it takes to get elected to Congress.

E-mail deputy editorial page editor Paul Davies at