MacArthur defeats Belgard in N.J.'s 3d District

House New Jersey
Tom MacArthur leaves a campaign stop on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Marlton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Republican Tom MacArthur defeated Democrat Aimee Belgard in one of the country's most hard-fought and expensive House races and won a seat representing a swath of South Jersey stretching from the Delaware River to the Shore.

MacArthur, a retired insurance executive and former mayor of Randolph Township in Morris County, will replace Jon Runyan, a former Eagle who decided to retire after serving two terms, saying he was frustrated with the rancor in Congress.

After Runyan's announcement, MacArthur moved to Toms River in Ocean County, prompting Belgard, a Burlington County freeholder and trial lawyer, to accuse him of being a carpetbagger.

MacArthur shot back that he had a summer home at the shore for nine years and had established community ties, including joining a church in Toms River, and had helped Hurricane Sandy victims. He spent $5 million of his own money on the campaign, beginning with a bitter primary challenge from conservative Steve Lonegan in the spring.

The battle between MacArthur and Belgard was marked by mostly negative TV ads and campaign literature, some of which were funded by conservative and liberal PACs. The race ended up costing more than $9 million between the two campaigns.

A September poll and several political forecasters had called the race a dead-heat early on, but surveys of likely voters in recent weeks showed MacArthur had gained between a 5- and 10-point lead.

Before the returns came in, MacArthur thanked volunteers Tuesday night at the Burlington County GOP headquarters in Mount Holly and said he was optimistic about victory. He said he was eager to get to work in Congress and help get rid of the gridlock.

"I'm proud of what we've done," he said, adding that he recently visited all 53 municipalities in the district, which covers much of Burlington and Ocean Counties.

Belgard, who met with union volunteers in Mount Holly Tuesday afternoon, also was upbeat.

"I feel like we ran a really great, strong campaign," she said at the time. "At this point it's in the hands of voters."

856-779-3224 @JanHefler