After it became clear earlier this week that Rep. Robert Andrews was seriously contemplating challenging veteran Sen. Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey’s Democratic primary, several Democratic party leaders tried to talk the Congressman out of making the jump to the Senate and creating a race out of what would otherwise have been a coronation.
By Wednesday, numbers from a partially complete Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poll began to circulate in New Jersey blogs and other media outlets that showed the playing field to be heavily stacked against an Andrews bid.
Those numbers, which were the first half of what was scheduled to be a two-day survey, showed Andrews down 35 points with more than 50 percent of Democratic primary voters having never heard of the 10-term Congressman from Camden County. The poll was conducted for the DSCC by the Benenson Strategy Group, a New York-based Democratic pollster that works frequently in New Jersey.
Collegial advice, pressure, scare tactic — call it what you will, but after all that, Andrews went ahead Wednesday evening and made his announcement that he was entering the race.
And though the dust was still flying after his announcement on Thursday, Andrews said he bears no ill will against those who tried to keep him out of the race.
“I think they made an appropriate and honorable effort to protect one of their incumbents and I respect that,” Andrews said in an interview Thursday evening. “Sen. [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.], Sen. [Charles] Schumer [D-N.Y.], Sen. [Bob] Menendez [D-N.J.] have acted entirely appropriately. There was no undue pressure.
“I think incumbent support programs by majorities and caucuses is exactly the right thing to do. I’ve participated in the House and I think it’s their right to do it in the Senate,” he said. “I have no quarrel whatsoever with the DSCC. … I understand their incumbent protection program. I’m on a different program.”
Andrews, who admitted he’s the underdog in this campaign, said he decided to run “because the people of the state want a change and I want to offer my credentials and my ideas as to what that change is. … I have spent my time listening to people all over the state and they’ve urged me to run because they think we need a change. I think we do, too.”
Andrews declined to talk about how he plans on winning a very uphill battle in the Democratic primary. But what the 50-year-old Congressman does have going for him is the fact that earlier polling on the race has shown that many voters worry about Lautenberg’s advancing age (he turned 84 earlier this year).
Since his announcement Wednesday evening, Andrews has secured a respectable amount of support in his southern New Jersey base, but he’ll need a lot more help in the northern part of the state — where the majority of Democratic voters reside — if he has any hope of knocking off a party stalwart like Lautenberg.
One key northern New Jersey endorsement that Andrews has on his side is that of Essex County Democratic power broker Steve Adubato. But Andrews would be hard-pressed to go endorsement for endorsement with Lautenberg, nor would he be able to go dollar for dollar with the Senator, who at the end of 2007 had nearly $2 million more cash on hand than Andrews.
Perhaps more importantly, the entire Democratic Congressional delegation has lined up squarely behind Lautenberg’s re-election bid.
Gaining any sort of traction in key northern New Jersey counties will be hard for Andrews to do if his colleagues put pressure on their local county parties, as has been the case already in Bergen County, where, on Wednesday, Rep. Steven Rothman (D) reportedly headed off an endorsement of Andrews by the county’s party chairman.