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Could Andrews’ Comeback Hurt Party?

A week after Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) announced his decision to return to Congress rather than retire, he has won back his party’s nomination to his South Jersey seat and appears well on his way to cruising to an 11th term this fall.

But considering the outrage that Andrews’ reversal caused in newspaper editorials and in Republican and Democratic circles around the state, some New Jersey insiders are wondering if the Congressman’s re-election shuffle might end up haunting state Democrats in other key New Jersey races down the road — not to mention Andrews’ own political future.

Andrews is coming off an unexpected Senate primary this spring, which he lost to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). During that campaign — which he moved ahead with despite strong objections from his New Jersey Democratic House colleagues — he repeatedly said he would not run again for his House seat if he lost to Lautenberg.

But last Thursday, Andrews announced that after much thought, prayer and encouragement from 1st district supporters, he intended to seek his House seat again.

On Monday, 1st district county Democratic committee members voted to make Andrews their nominee after his wife, who had been largely viewed as a placeholder, took her name off the ballot.

While Andrews appears safe in the 1st district, where he’s well-known and where voters chose Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) over President Bush 61 percent to 39 percent in 2004, Republicans have begun to insinuate that Andrews will be a cancer on his fellow Democrats in this fall’s Congressional elections.

In particular, Republicans are hoping that anger over Andrews’ reversal could taint the Congressional campaign of the 3rd district Democratic nominee, state Sen. John Adler. Adler, like Andrews, hails from Camden County and has ties to the same party bosses that Andrews is close to in southern New Jersey. Adler is running against Lockheed Martin Vice President and Medford Mayor Chris Myers in the battleground district of retiring Rep. Jim Saxton (R).

The Republican nominee in the 1st district, Dale Glading, disputes the notion that Andrews should still be considered safe this fall, but he agrees that Andrews will taint Adler’s campaign. “I think it’ll spill over into the 3rd Congressional district,” said Glading, whose campaign has already started “Chris Myers is a local mayor and businessman going against a career politician.”

“John Adler is running as hard and as fast as he can from his Camden County Democratic roots because they don’t play well in the 3rd district,” said Richard DeMichele, the chairman of the Camden County Republican Party and a co-chairman of Myers’ campaign. DeMichele said that Democrats in Camden have such an overwhelming voter registration advantage that it breeds arrogance — and Adler will not be able to escape that.

Myers campaign manager Chris Russell said the campaign will be more focused on Adler this fall than Andrews, but he said that people in the 3rd district will certainly be aware of Andrews’ re-election antics considering their proximity to the 1st district and local newspaper stories.

“I think people in the district who care about that issue will certainly be well- educated on it by the time Election Day rolls around,” Russell said.

But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Carrie James disputed the notion that Andrews’ decision to run again would be harmful to his own campaign or Adler’s.

“The only candidate who is going to lose his election because of Rob Andrews is Dale Glading,” James said. “John Adler is running on his own record of fighting for middle-class families.”

Still, Andrews’ fancy footwork to keep his seat could also have ramifications beyond southern New Jersey.

New Jersey GOP political consultant Bob Holste said Andrews’ reversal “puts in stark relief the contempt the Democratic Party has for the voters in New Jersey. … That if you can’t get what you want at the ballot box and General Assembly, you shove it through, voters be damned.”

Holste equated Andrews’ efforts to keep his seat without giving voters a real choice to efforts by Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to move ahead with a toll and tax plan this fall in the Garden State.

One New Jersey Democrat conceded last week that at a time when many Democrats in New Jersey assume Republican U.S. Attorney Chris Christie is going to run for governor in 2009 against Corzine on a message that New Jersey politicians can’t keep their word, Andrews’ move “adds another plank to Christie’s platform.”

Andrews said he doesn’t believe his decision to return to politics will create any sort of domino effect against Garden State Democrats, and he said any speculation that it would was more “hyperactive politics” than reality.

“Sure, I thought about other political considerations, but that’s not what determined my decision,” Andrews said. “I think whether the governor gets re-elected or Sen. Obama carries the state or what happens in the 3rd Congressional district is totally unrelated to this,” he said, referencing presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). “It’s related to the characteristics of the people running in those races.”

Andrews added that while he expected a Republican backlash over his decision, he has been “humbled to receive overwhelming support from Democrats, beginning with the county committee people that renominated me Monday night, Democratic elected officials up and down the state, the governor, state chairmen, Sen. [Bob] Menendez. … Comments from Republicans speak for themselves. We’ll let the voters decide.”

But not all of Andrews’ Democratic colleagues have been publically supportive of his decision return to Congress. On Friday, Rep. Bill Pascrell (N.J.) told the New York Times that Andrews’ decision was “disingenuous” and that it represented “a flaw in his character.”