N.J. Delegation Gets Tough With Andrews

Posted April 8, 2008 at 6:55pm

Rep. Robert Andrews’ fellow Garden State Democratic House Members called on the South Jersey Congressman to end his day-old Senate bid in a joint statement Tuesday, adding that his primary challenge to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) is neither realistic nor helpful to Democratic goals in the state.

But Andrews didn’t appear to be taking the message of his delegation colleagues to heart, releasing a statement of his own Tuesday in which he challenged Lautenberg to several debates and insinuating that the 84-year-old incumbent was “hiding” behind staffers and surrogates.

And with both sides appearing to dig in for a fight leading up to the June 3 primary, Garden State Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill predicted that this inner-delegation family feud is only going to get uglier.

“We would have liked it to have been a knock-out blow,” one senior New Jersey delegation staff member said of the joint statement that Andrews’ six Democratic House colleagues released. “The delegation was sincere in its hope that it would get Congressman Andrews out of the race.”

But with a hasty Andrews withdrawal unlikely, the source said the delegation is willing to take this fight all the way to June 3.

“We’re ready for a battle to ensure that Sen. Lautenberg is re-elected,” the source said.

And just how ugly is it going to get?

“A lot of that depends on how far Congressman Andrews wants it to go,” the staffer replied.

The lines of attack on both sides have begun to sharpen in the 10 days since Andrews’ interest in the Senate seat became known.

Andrews has been painted as an overly ambitious dealmaker whose moderate record may work for him and local political bosses in his Camden-based seat in South Jersey, but is out of line with the majority of Democratic voters in the Garden State. Lautenberg supporters have already begun playing up Andrews’ role in helping to pass the resolution to authorize the use of force in Iraq and are calling him a cheerleader who continued to help further President Bush’s policies after the invasion.

Andrews — who admits he’s the underdog in this fight — says he’s simply offering Democrats a choice in a year when voters have expressed an overwhelming desire for change. As he takes on the 84-year-old Senator, the 50-year-old Congressman is emphasizing his energy (if not his age) and says that voters should be given the chance to draw their own opinions on the two candidates through open debates. He has said he opposes a system that would otherwise simply hand Lautenberg another six years in office without voters getting to see where he stands.

One other soft spot Andrews has tried to shore up this week is the notion that his wife’s candidacy in his 1st district seat — which was backed by local party bosses — was a political deal made to ensure he has a safety net in case his Senate bid fails.

Andrews has said that win or lose, he’s not running for the House. And 1st district county party leaders have indicated that Camille Andrews, an associate dean of Rutgers University Law School, could act as a placeholder as they search for the best candidate to replace her husband.

One New Jersey political consultant said Robert Andrews will likely be facing a lot of questions about his wife’s House candidacy while he’s trying to run his own Senate campaign.

“It’s a district with an enormous bench and you’re saying the only possible person … is his wife?” the consultant said. “For a guy who’s trying to argue that he’s about change, this is the ultimate insider politics deal. … It’s almost sad for her. She’s probably a woman of great accomplishment in her own right, but given the circumstances … it diminishes her, which is sort of unfair.”

In their joint statement Tuesday, New Jersey Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell, Rush Holt, Steven Rothman, Frank Pallone, Donald Payne and Albio Sires said that Andrews broke a promise he made to Lautenberg and to them last October to support the Senator’s re-election.

With his 11th-hour announcement last week, the Members say, Andrews is trying to make an “end-run” around the established process by which the party has gone about picking its nominees.

“For the past six months Congressman Andrews had every opportunity to challenge for the Senate seat,” the statement said. “Our Party’s nominating process is open and fair. Yet, it was only in this past week the Congressman took any action whatsoever to pursue the seat and renounce his earlier promise. … Congressman Andrews’ end-run around the Democratic party’s open nominating process is both outrageous and unacceptable.”

The Members went on to dismiss any notion that Andrews has a serious chance in the June Democratic primary.

“Now after seven days of threats, Congressman Andrews has succeeded only in becoming a regional candidate. … Congressman Andrews pointlessly staying in this race is exactly what the Republicans desperately need and doubtlessly want.

“It is now clear that Congressman Rob Andrews has failed to gain the necessary support to realistically compete in this race, and therefore, we urge Congressman Andrews to end his campaign.”

In a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) reiterated his committee’s support for the incumbent.

In his own campaign release on Tuesday, Andrews showed no sign that he planned to do anything but move ahead with a campaign in which he openly admits to being David to the well-financed, well-connected Goliath that is Lautenberg. The 10-term Congressman challenged Lautenberg to a series of seven regional debates before the June 3 primary where, he said, the two could meet face to face without “hiding” behind staff or surrogates.

“Senator Lautenberg has made it clear to the people of New Jersey that he should be anointed to their Senate seat rather than face his opponent in fair and open debates on the issues that matter most to our families,” Andrews said. “I sincerely hope he changes his mind and shows the voters the respect they deserve as they decide who is better equipped to represent them in the United States Senate. Senator Lautenberg can do that by facing me one-on-one so the people of New Jersey can draw their own conclusions.”