Groups Urge Debates In 3rd District Race

Courier-Post Online — Monday, May 3, 2010


With the June 8 primary a little more than a month away, the debate dance has begun in the 3rd Congressional District.

Last Monday, Veterans for Education, an advocacy group at Rutgers-Camden, formally asked Republicans Jon Runyan and Justin Murphy to attend a forum focused on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Murphy, who has eschewed the support of the traditional party organizations and is considered a long shot, immediately agreed to the dates proposed in the second week of May. Bryan Adams, a student and president of Veterans for Education, said a campaign organizer for Runyan told him none of the four possible dates worked and she would get back to him.

Runyan did attend an April 25 benefit run in honor of Cherry Hill native and Rutgers-Camden student Jeremy Kane, who was killed in January while serving in Afghanistan.

Veterans for Education held a debate forum for Democrat John Adler and Medford Councilman Chris Myers when both were battling over the open seat in 2008.

Adams, an Iraq veteran who is now a 26-year-old undergraduate at the Camden campus, said he was particularly eager to compare Runyan and Murphy in person.

"Everyone thinks Runyan is the shoo-in. We just want to see what he's bringing to the table since h e's not the official candidate yet," Adams said. "It's a shame because Justin Murphy's a really intelligent guy and he deserves an opportunity to get his opinions out there and not just minimized because he doesn't have millions and millions of dollars."

Adler, the 2008 victor who so far is quietly campaigning to keep his seat, invited Adams' organization to be on his veterans advisory board shortly after taking office. Adams said the Cherry Hill Democrat, who sits on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, was "doing an excellent job" on issues concerning veterans.

"He's always extremely intelligent, which is helpful with veterans issues because they can be complicated," Adams said. "He's a strong advocate for us."

In April, New Jersey's Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter named Adler its Outstanding Federal Legislator of the Year. Adler's predecessor, longtime Republican Rep. Jim Saxton, was the last lawmaker to receive the award as a freshman.

Adams' group has not proposed a debate between Adler and Barry Bendar, an Ocean County municipal party official who is challenging the congressman.

Bendar launched his campaign website only last week, but he has the support of Democratic voters and organizations who are angry with Adler's vote against health care reform.

On Friday, Willingboro-based GrassRoots4Change, which backs Bendar, reached out to all four candidates about a forum to be moderated by the NJ Citizen Action Education Fund. However, neither Runyan nor Adler camps received the invitations since the e-mail addresses used by GrassRoots4Change Chairman David Hopkins were incorrect. Both Murphy and Bendar replied affirmatively with a set of dates that worked for them.

The Courier-Post alerted Hopkins to the e-mail errors.

Murphy has sent out several press releases accusing Runyan of ducking debates. The former Philadelphia Eagle's campaign adviser, Chris Russell, said Runyan was using the days before the primary to meet with constituents and listen to their concerns.

Adler's campaign manager, Geoff Mackler, pointed out Adler has held the equivalent of dozens of debates over the last year by holding numerous meetings with voters in town halls and diner meet- and-greets.

"In fact, Mr. Bendar voiced his concern over the health care legislation at close to a half-dozen meetings," Mackler said. "Mr. Hopkins has also voiced his concerns over health care reform at public meetings."

Ultimately, each of the two front-runners seemed more intent on directing attention to his presumptive general election opponent.

Last week, Runyan's campaign accused Adler of hypocrisy for voting as a state senator against a pay raise but accepting the bumped-up pay. Mackler s aid he was looking into whether Adler pocketed the difference or diverted the extra money elsewhere.

And on Friday, Adler's campaign pressured Runyan to commit publicly to a position on a Wall Street reform package being stymied by Senate Republicans. In a March interview, Runyan said in certain circumstances "Congress has to step in" when financial firms can't or won't take self- corrective actions.

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