Runyan, a two-term congressman and former NFL offensive lineman, easily won re-election in 2012 with 53.8 percent of the vote. His popularity spoke across party lines as President Obama also won that district with 52 percent of the vote.
Now, the seat is wide open for the 2014 midterm election with a competitive Democratic challenger in the mix. The two major political publications that forecast congressional races once considered the race safe Republican with Runyan running for re-election, and now predict that the race is a toss-up.
Runyan announced his intention not to run for re-election in November, just a few weeks after expressing frustration at his party’s intransigence on the government shutdown. While agreeing that he had concerns about Obamacare, he called for an end to the shutdown early on, claiming that “shutting down the entire federal government and threatening our economy to make a political point is utterly ridiculous.”
His irritation with his own party extends even further back to the debate over aid for Hurricane Sandy relief. Republicans often sought aid for their districts while at the same time arguing for a reduction in federal spending. Runyan was one of the congressmen who called his colleagues hypocrites for the contradiction in this position.
In addition, while in office, Runyan focused his legislative agenda on Sandy aid, assistance to the long-term unemployed, and veterans affairs. Many of these issues put him at odds with other Republicans at a national level as he was a firm moderate in the blue state of New Jersey.
These factors all contributed to his decision not to run for re-election. In his statement to the press, Runyan also attributed his withdrawal to family concerns. He explained that “he never intended to make politics a career” and that he was looking forward to spending more time with his family.
For 2014, a few candidates have already thrown their hat into the ring.Burlington County Freeholder, Aimee Belgard,
announced her intention to run for the seat for the Democratic side the day after Runyan made his announcement. New Jersey currently has no women in its congressional delegation.
In addition, James Byrnes, a Vietnam vet whose house was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy, also entered the race earlier this week from the GOP side.
Unemployment in NJ-3 still hovers around 10 percent with a mean household income of around $88,000. The economy is therefore one of the major issues heading into the election.
While a number of other candidates are considering campaigns, Belgard and Byrnes have emerged as the only ones to announce their candidacy so far and have already begun to appeal to these issues. In what is sure to be a competitive district, national attention and campaign dollars have already started to flow into the area, making it one of the key campaigns to watch in the coming months.
Photo Credit: Matt Rainey / The Star-Ledger