Shelley Adler, the widow of former Democratic Rep. John H. Adler, will seek her party's nomination to run for the seat her husband lost in 2010, she announced Monday.
The lawyer and former Cherry Hill councilwoman hopes to run as the Democratic candidate in the recently redrawn Third Congressional District, which covers much of Burlington and Ocean Counties. She would likely oppose Republican Jon Runyan, the former Eagles player, who defeated her husband and faces his first reelection bid.
Adler, 52, said she had considered becoming a candidate "for the last couple of months. . . . We believe that this is the way to carry on John's legacy of public service and his concern for the middle class.
"I think that it's clear that the vast majority of the people in this country do not benefit from the tax cuts offered" by Republicans in Washington. "It's time to have tax policy that will be fair to the middle class and have people who are at the very top of the income tax pay their fair share," she said in an interview Monday.
Adler could face a tougher first race than her husband did, who was elected in 2008 after a longtime Republican incumbent retired.
The family's hometown of Cherry Hill was cut from the district during congressional remapping in December, making the already-Republican-leaning district more GOP-friendly, said Patrick Murray, a political analyst and director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
"The loss of Cherry Hill and the addition of Brick Township out in Ocean County really locked this up for Republicans," Murray said. "It was never a strong Democratic district, and now it is really out of reach for them."
But another political observer said Adler has advantages.
"Many people in the district hold a fondness for John Adler," said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, "and some of that will translate."
John H. Adler died in April of complications from a heart infection. He was 51 and left behind four sons, the youngest of whom is age 10.
Shelley Adler could also be helped by President Obama's candidacy. "This election year is going to be so divisive," Harrison said, and "chances are the president is going to spend a good deal of money getting out the vote. . . . Democratic forces will be rallied."
After the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. H. Jim Saxton, who served the district for 24 years, John Adler rode the coattails of Barack Obama to win an open-seat election.
By 2010, the political mood had shifted. Runyan, a political neophyte, was one of 85 freshman Republicans elected, many of them aided by tea-party conservatives who preached fiscal discipline.
In a statement Monday, Runyan, 38, of Mount Laurel, welcomed Shelley Adler to the race.
"If she is ultimately the Democratic nominee, I look forward to a spirited campaign on the issues that matter to the residents of Burlington and Ocean Counties," he said.
Runyan's campaign spokesman, Chris Russell, chided Adler on Monday for not moving within the new boundaries of the district.
"You would think candidates would be more wary of seeking elected office in a district that they don't actually live in," Russell said.
Adler said she would "secure a residence" in the Third District if elected, though she was not required to do so. Congressional candidates need only be a resident of the state where they run.
So far, Adler is the only person to formally express interest in the nomination, said Joe Andl, chairman of the Burlington County Democrats. Andl said the party would make its endorsement after candidates' April 2 filing deadline. But he praised Adler.
"She will be a tremendous candidate, hardworking, and she certainly has name recognition," he said, "which will be helpful during the election."
Democrats lamented the loss in the remapping of Cherry Hill from the Third District. The township of about 71,000 favored John H. Adler over Runyan by a 1.5-1 ratio.
"I think it's going to be more of a challenge for Shelley and for any Democrat that runs," Andl said. "I think we can win in Burlington County," but Ocean County might be tougher.
A call to the Ocean County Democrats was not returned Monday.
National party officials said they remained optimistic about their chances. Within the new boundaries, 52 percent of voters chose Obama in 2008, said Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
That is not a large margin in a state like New Jersey, where Obama won by nearly 16 percentage points, Murray said. Democrats are putting candidates in place in the hopes that the political tide will turn in their favor this year, he said.
"The Democrats nationally are trying to set themselves up with decent candidates in marginal districts," Murray said, "in the event that there is a tidal shift in voter opinion that allows them to pick up the leadership in the House."