About 150 protesters gathered during a muggy three hours Monday outside a Cherry Hill restaurant where U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was attending a fund-raiser for State Sen. Donald Norcross' congressional campaign.
Inside Caffe Aldo Lamberti, Norcross, Reid, and a swath of supporters from South Jersey and beyond dined on $2,600 per-plate meals at the private event.
Norcross is the Democratic nominee for the First District seat vacated in February by Robert E. Andrews. He will face Republican Garry Cobb, a former Philadelphia Eagle, on Nov. 4. The district contains most of Camden County and part of Gloucester County.
Cobb, who joined the protesters Monday evening, called the event "an incredible exhibition of arrogance."
"People coming here today are paying to do business in South Jersey," Cobb said. "And they're being so arrogant about it, to just do it in front of everyone."
Cobb, 57, of Cherry Hill, echoed many protesters in saying Reid's appearance was aimed at strengthening an ironclad hold by the Norcross family on state politics. Norcross' brother George E. III is chairman of the board at Cooper University Hospital and an influential political player. Brother Phillip is an attorney and lobbyist.
"People deserve representation. If Don goes to Washington, he represents his family," Cobb said.
Ken Shuttleworth, spokesman for the Norcross campaign, dismissed the criticism and noted that the local Democrats have historically drawn big names to fund-raising events, including Bill and Hillary Clinton and Edward M. Kennedy. He said Reid has been friendly with the Norcross family for a long time and spoke at an event for Camden County Democrats about five years ago.
"This is kind of a tradition with the Camden County Democrats, to have a major policymaker," Shuttleworth said.
As protesters were arriving Monday, Shuttleworth said the campaign was not fazed by the distraction.
"We're talking about political leaders here - leaders of government. We're not going to be riled by a citizen protest or any other sort of protest," he said.
Scot DeCristofaro of Haddon Township said the event seemed to him more spectacle than fund-raiser; Norcross has $607,000 cash on hand compared with Cobb's $13,000 as of a July report.
"It's flexing for the state, maybe for Sweeney's run for governor," DeCristofaro said of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who has not announced any plans to run for governor.
Camden County Republican Chairman Tom Booth said that "the first five people who walked through that door probably out-raised us year-to-date," but said money isn't a definitive factor.
"It's about message," he said.
The messages on protest signs Monday ranged from "Dingy Harry and Dirty Don, Perfect Together" to "Roses are red, violets are blue, if you vote for Norcross, shame on you."
As cars pulled into the restaurant's valet line, they passed the largely quiet group.
Some drivers passing on Route 70 during rush hour honked in approval, particularly at one protester dressed as Paul Revere.
After a police officer mentioned that Reid, who had traveled from Washington, had left the event around 5 p.m., Bill McCusker of Voorhees said, "I hope he takes a couple of the people inside back where he came from."