*Updated 7:00 PM EST
A reported fake tea party candidate exposed by local New Jersey media will likely be at the center of a debate between Congressman John Adler, New Jersey Democrat and Republican challenger Jon Runyan tonight in Cherry Hill at the Katz Jewish Community Center, says a local New Jersey reports.
However, according to David Snyder, Executive Director of the JCRC, Mr. DeStefano will not be part of the debate tonight.
“There was no inquiry that was made,” said Mr. Snyder. “ At his point he [DeStefano] will only be allowed to sit in the audience,” he told me.
Reports say that Democrats likely planted Mount Holly picture framer Peter DeStefano in the race as a so-called “tea partier” to siphon votes away from Republican challenger Jon Runyan, a former NFL football player.
I asked Mr. Adler on Monday night about Mr. DeStefano, but the Congressman refused to answer any questions about it, specifically why a former campaign staffer’s signature was on Mr. DeStefano’s nominating petitions.
Listen to Rep. Adler here.
According to the Courier Post, Democratic operatives told the paper Mr. DeStefano was planted in the race by Democrats to “confuse conservative voters” in the New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District on November 2nd, and hurt Mr. Runyan’s chances.
“The goal was to take 5 percent of (Republican Jon) Runyan’s vote,” said a Democrat with direct knowledge of the Adler campaign and CCDC operations.
“Steve Ayscue designed the plan with Geoff Mackler following his lead.”
Ayscue is a high-profile Democratic consultant who runs the CCDC. Mackler is Adler’s campaign manager.
Several South Jersey Democratic operatives with direct knowledge of the Adler campaign and CCDC operations spoke to the Courier-Post on condition of anonymity because of what they described as ethical qualms with Adler’s campaign.
“From the beginning, orders have flowed from Cherry Hill,” said one Democratic operative, referring to CCDC headquarters at Garden State Pavilions shopping center off Route 70.
The New Jersey race is hotly contested and according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll (h/t The Daily Record) among likely voters, Mr. Runyan is trailing Mr. Adler 39 to 41 percent. However, among voters at-large the poll also shows Mr. DeStefano grabbing 6 percent pushing Mr. Adler ahead of Mr. Runyan by nine percent.
Another independent poll reported by the Philadephia Inquirer says the following:
A third independent poll this week has said the race between freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. John Adler and Republican Jon Runyan is close. Adler finished with 42 percent to Runyan’s 39 percent in the latest poll. A third-party candidate, Peter DeStefano, running with the tag line “NJ Tea Party,” took 4 percent. Adler and Runyan are in a statistical dead heat because the poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Mr. Adler has denied his campaign had anything to do with putting Mr. DeStefano in the race, but the Courier pointed out that their Democratic sources say that Adler “is aware of the DeStefano plan.”
Local tea party groups acknowledge they had never heard of Mr. DeStefano before until the Adler campaign released an internal poll including the third party candidate as a possible spoiler in the election for Mr. Runyan’s campaign.
However, political analysts reportedly say that voters, already angry with incumbents in Washington, may very well interpret such a scheme as a dirty political trick that could backfire on Mr. Adler.