- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The New Jersey tavern owner and Superstorm Sandy advocate known because Gov. Chris Christie once told him to sit down and shut up is - once again - ignoring the governor’s advice.

Jim Keady, the owner of the Lighthouse Tavern in Waretown, is taking on fellow Democrat Frederick John LaVergne in the Burlington- and Ocean County-based district in the June 7 primary. The winner will take on Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur, whose $5 million contribution to his 2014 campaign made him the state’s ninth largest self-funder.

The contest comes amid a sleepy congressional primary season, where none of the seven incumbents facing primary challengers appears headed toward defeat.

But there are tensions and competition in some of the state’s congressional races.

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CAPITALIZING ON CHRISTIE’S CRITICISM

Keady is well aware of the publicity Christie granted him when he berated him publicly in Belmar in 2014 over the distribution of federal money for Sandy victims, prominently citing the incident on his campaign website and featuring a photo from that day.

With Christie’s job approval at record lows in New Jersey polls, it’s a bet Keady hopes pays off.

“I took on Gov. Christie well before many people in New Jersey came around to the reality of what a horrible governor he is,” Keady said in an interview.

Keady named concern over the environment as a top priority.

LaVergne, who is no stranger in the district and argues Keady is too far to the left, previously ran for Congress in 2014 and 2012. He lost badly in each election, though still garnering about 4,000 votes across both races.

The 3rd District has more Democrats than Republicans, but unaffiliated voters make up the biggest chunk of the electorate.

“If you don’t move the needle with independent minded voters, you cannot win this election,” LaVergne said.

Keady, who lost an Assembly contest in 2015, isn’t the first Democrat to try to spin Christie’s criticism into electoral victory.

Teacher Marie Corfield, a Democrat, confronted Christie at a town hall in 2010 over his education policies. The video has more than 1 million views, and helped launch Corfield’s political career.

She came within 2,000 votes of winning a seat in the Assembly in 2011.

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FAMILY TIES

Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross in southern New Jersey’s 1st District is backed by the state’s Democratic establishment, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, fellow Democratic U.S. representatives, and his influential brother, George Norcross. He has about $363,000 in cash on hand.

And yet his 25-year-old challenger, Alex Law, has drawn the first-term congressman into the fight.

Law works as a consultant at IBM and casts himself as a progressive alternative to Donald Norcross, depicting the congressman as a cartoon on his website alongside a similar caricature depicting George Norcross and a drawing of a factory with the words “machine politics” beneath.

For his part, Norcross is running broadcast television ads in the Philadelphia media market, and drew Law’s father into the campaign as well, depicting Peter Law, a social studies teacher, as anti-union because he voted against unionizing at the charter school where he worked.

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ACROSS THE STATE

Elsewhere, incumbents are facing challenges in their own parties, but in all those races the representatives are miles ahead of their opponents in fundraising and in garnering local party support, which in New Jersey determines “the line,” or position on the ballot.

Politicians who win the party line get favorable spots on the ballot. Other Democrats facing challengers are: Albio Sires in the 8th District, challenged by Eloy Delgado; and Bonnie Watson Coleman in the 12th District, facing Alexander Kucsma.

Republicans facing challengers are: Chris Smith in the 4th District, taking on Bruce MacDonald; Scott Garrett in the 5th District facing Michael Cino and Peter Vallorosi; Leonard Lance in the 7th District, facing David Larsen and Craig Heard and Rodney Frelinghuysen in the 11th District facing Rick Van Glahn.


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