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Princeton Packet - "GOP seat in 7th Congressional District threatened"

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Princeton Packet - "GOP seat in 7th Congressional District threatened"

A race for the 7th Congressional District seat held by departing Republican Mike Ferguson, which pits Republican state Senator Leonard Lance against Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Stender, who nearly unseated Mr. Ferguson two years ago, may shape up to be one of the state's more riveting races this fall.

After a redistricting in 2000, the 7th district — which includes Montgomery and Rocky Hill — was considered to be safer for Republican candidates, but it voted for Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, and Ms. Stender came within a few thousand votes of beating Rep. Ferguson in 2006, said Ingrid Reed, director of the New Jersey Project at the Eagleton Institute for Politics at Rutgers University.

Although Ms. Stender lost, she became very well known in the district, and has been able to raise significant amounts of money for her campaign, Ms. Reed said.

"She is actually going into this election with the amount of money and the name recognition that one associates with an incumbent," Ms. Reed said. Although Mr. Lance is well-regarded and has one of the best reputations in the state as a centrist and bipartisan legislator, at present "he does not have the name recognition or the resources" in the 7th District race, she said.

According to a July 15 report filed with the Federal Election Commission, Ms. Stender's campaign had received net contributions of $1,545,683 to date in 2008, and had over $1.2 million in cash on hand. Mr. Lance's July 15 filing listed net contributions to date in 2008 of $385,238 and cash on hand of $80,793.

"This is a Republican leaning district so it will be a challenge for Linda Stender in a presidential (election) year when lots of marginal Republicans tend to come out," said Ben Dworkin, director of the Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. Mr. Dworkin acknowledged Ms. Stender's name recognition and resources, noting she has been "running nonstop for the last three years," and "she has raised a tremendous amount of money."

Additionally, the national Democratic Party has committed $2 million to Ms. Stender's campaign, a "huge commitment up front," while the national Republican Party has yet to contribute to Mr. Lance's effort, Mr. Dworkin said.

Mr. Lance said his reduced financial resources were the result of expenditures required to prevail in a contested June primary election for the 7th district Republican ticket. Mr. Lance defeated Kate Whitman, daughter of former Gov. Christie Whitman, among others. He said he was confident his fundraising numbers would show significant improvement in future federal filings.

"I am fiscally responsible, socially moderate and a strong environmentalist, and I think that reflects the voters of this district," Mr. Lance said.

"I'm running to change the direction of our country for New Jersey families," Ms. Stender said. "Middle class families are being squeezed by rising costs of everything from gas to food to health care," Ms. Stender said, noting that at a time when the Bush administration has spent billions of dollars on the war in Iraq and infrastructure in Iraq, "we are told there is really no money" for domestic programs like health care, education and infrastructure.

Both Ms. Stender and Mr. Lance said they support measures to improve America's current energy situation by promoting increasing alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and other technologies. They would both support closing the so-called "Enron loophole" which enables unregulated energy speculation. Neither Ms. Stender nor Mr. Lance said they would support expanded energy generation with nuclear power, citing the lack of a clear plan currently for nuclear waste storage among other problems.

Ms. Stender said American troops should have never gone into Iraq and a timetable for withdrawal should be established.

"I believe we could withdraw within a year, or two at most," Mr. Lance said, "but I would not set an absolute date."

Mr. Lance said he believed troops could be withdrawn from Iraq now that American military strategies had helped stabilize the country. "I hope that we can leave Iraq in a relatively short timeframe," Mr. Lance said, adding, "I believe the surge has been largely successful and it is because of the surge that we can leave Iraq."

On social issues, Mr. Lance said he is pro-choice, but not a supporter of gay marriage. "I actually believe marriage is an institution between a man and a woman," he said.

Ms. Stender, who is pro-choice and a supporter of gay marriage, described a broader interest in women's issues. "I feel very strongly we need to trust women to make decisions about health care and reproductive health," she said.

Ms. Stender also said she wished to push for broader female participation in, and representation at all levels of government. "People are shocked when I tell them there are no women in our (New Jersey) Congressional delegation," she said.

Asked to name a signature issue he would pursue if elected, Mr. Lance said he would continue to push for fiscal responsibility in the halls of Congress, as he has in Trenton. "We have to get a handle on our federal debt, $10 trillion, it does hang as a Sword of Damocles over our future generations," he said.

Mr. Lance said he has been a vocal opponent as a state legislator of increasing taxes, irresponsible state spending and balancing budgets through borrowing which did not receive voter approval, noting he has opposed such tactics by both Republican and Democratic administrations, an example of how he is willing to cross party lines on issues which are important to him.

Mr. Lance contrasted his policy of fiscal restraint in the state legislature with what he described as Ms. Stender's support of fiscally irresponsible state budgets and willingness to vote for business and income tax increases.

"New Jersey now has the highest local and state tax burden in the country," Mr. Lance said. "I believe our business climate and our tax climate in New Jersey are simply terrible," he added, with businesses and residents leaving the state as a result.

Ms. Stender said her signature issue, if elected, would be ensuring that the nation began to invest again in infrastructure and mass transit, in New Jersey and elsewhere. After two terms, the Bush administration "invested $50 billion in infrastructure in Iraq, when we haven't put the money here," she said.

Ms. Stender said her interest in changing national priorities, emphasizing domestic investment rather than spending in Iraq, contrasted to Mr. Lance who has supported the Bush administration policies. "He really does represent a continuation of the failed policies of the Bush administration and I am offering a new choice for change in the future," she said.

Ms. Stender, 57, has represented the 22nd District in the Assembly since 2002 and is currently deputy speaker of the Assembly. She received a bachelor's degree from American University.

Mr. Lance, 56, represented the 23rd District in the Assembly from 1991 to 2001 and in the state Senate from 2002 until the present. He was Senate minority leader from 2004 to 2007. He received a bachelor's degree from Lehigh University, a law degree from Vanderbilt University Law School, and a master of public administration degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

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