After a bruising battle, Tom MacArthur bested Steve Lonegan in the Republican primary to replace U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan in the Third District, which includes most of Burlington County and part of Ocean County.
MacArthur, endorsed by the Republican organization, handily defeated Lonegan, a right-wing conservative backed by tea party groups, for the nod to run in November. The two men were former North Jersey mayors who moved to South Jersey to run after Runyan decided against seeking reelection.
"I'm excited. The Republicans in the district have spoken loudly and now it's on to November," MacArthur said in a phone interview. "Lonegan called me a few minutes ago and conceded. . . . I do intend to reach out to the people who supported him," he said, adding that he believes the party will come together to work for a Republican victory.
In an e-mailed statement, Lonegan said: "Unfortunately we could not overcome the millions of dollars spent against us in negative attack ads. . . . We may have lost tonight, but the fight for our conservative values continues. We must hold those nominated by the Republican party accountable."
When Tim Kelly, his campaign manager, was asked if Lonegan would throw his support to MacArthur, he said: "Possibly, probably, not tonight, not this minute. . . . He called MacArthur and wished him the best and they had a pleasant conversation."
MacArthur will face Aimee Belgard, a Burlington County freeholder, who beat Howard Kleinhendler and Bruce Todd in the Democratic primary. Belgard, 40, of Edgewater Park, was the endorsed candidate. Kleinhendler, 50, an attorney from Brick, was making his second bid for a seat in Congress, while Todd, 64, of Waretown, ran last year as an independent Democrat for lieutenant governor.
"I'm excited and super grateful for everybody who helped me get here," Belgard said after the race was called. "I'm looking forward to continuing this journey and taking this on to November and to Washington to represent the great people of South Jersey."
In an e-mail, Kleinhendler said: "While the Democratic establishment clearly sided with one candidate, that did not deter our efforts to speak out on important issues and champion the causes of the middle class and the underprivileged in Burlington and Ocean Counties." He wished Belgard luck in the election.
Todd could not be reached for comment.
Though the Third District traditionally votes Republican, the seat is viewed as among the most competitive in the country. President Obama took the district twice, while a Democrat captured the seat in 2008 but then lost it after one term.
In recent months the GOP primary has been the more closely watched, as it became increasingly nasty and reflected a lingering rift seen in national Republican races. MacArthur, 53, a millionaire former insurance executive, was mayor of Randolph in Morris County last year before he moved to Toms River, while Lonegan, 58, a former Bogota mayor, moved from Bergen County to Lavallette.
MacArthur spent $2 million of his own money on the campaign and also ended up suing Lonegan for defamation. Lonegan, who unsuccessfully ran against Cory Booker for a seat in the U.S. Senate last year and for four other state and federal races, had vowed he would not run again but asserted he represented the "true conservative." He had attacked MacArthur by saying his insurance firm had shortchanged disaster victims. In his statement, Lonegan said he would "continue to speak out on the issues that matter to us."