WASHINGTON -- A tea party group took aim at Republican Senate candidate Steve Lonegan Monday, questioning his temperament and his potential damage to other Republicans after a campaign aide sent a racially-charged Tweet last week.
UPDATED: Separately, Gov. Christie called the tweet "inflammatory and inappropriate" and said he would have fired the staffer who sent it because it showed "a complete lack of judgement."
"Steve's decision has been to work with that person," Christie said at a Trenton news conference. "And that's his call."
The Independence Hall Tea Party, which reaches into Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware, also said Lonegan should have fired the staffer who sent out the message (which was quickly deleted).
“We certainly hope Steve Lonegan doesn’t end up doing to the New Jersey Republican party what Todd Akin did to the Missouri Republican party -- and, ultimately, the national Republican party,” said a release from the group, which has endorsed Lonegan’s opponent, physician Alieta Eck.
Akin is the Republican who used the phrase “legitimate rape” in his Missouri Senate race last year and saw his campaign implode, costing the GOP a seat many thought they could win.
The Akin parallel isn’t perfect – New Jersey’s Senate seats have long been safely Democratic, so Republicans aren’t at risk of losing a sure thing – but they raised a fear that Lonegan’s no-holds-barred style will hurt the party overall.
“Obviously, Mr. Lonegan thought there was something offensive about the tweet aimed at his Democrat rival, Corey Booker,” the statement said, misspelling Booker’s first name (it’s Cory).
On Twitter, Lonegan campaign aide Rick Shaftan fired back that the group is “the only "Tea Party" group anywhere to endorse Romney for the nomination.” He added the hashtag “#Frauds”
Lonegan is heavily favored over Eck in Tuesday's Republican primary.
Lonegan over the weekend called the controversy a “tempest in a teapot” and accused liberals of using “every excuse to pull the race card.”
(The tweet last week came with a map labeling parts of Newark “West Africa, Guyana, Portugal, Brazil.”)
Lonegan said he would not fire the staffer who sent the Tweet, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
“The kid was doing what he was thought was funny. He didn’t look at it as being racist at all,” Lonegan said. “I said, ‘first of all, I don’t want any funny, clever stuff on my campaign."