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Former Burlington County Freeholder Jean Stanfield, left, with Assemblyman Ryan Peters. (Photo: Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe)

LD8 candidates focus on GOTV

In last days, star power, groundwork take center stage

By Nikita Biryukov, November 02 2019 9:35 pm

Candidate in the eighth legislative district have turned the entirety of their focus to their get out the vote operations with election day looming.

“It’s outreach and presence,” Assemblyman Ryan Peters said. “People appreciate the time you give them, not just everything else … The worst thing that can happen to a candidate, in my opinion, is on Wednesday they go ‘Hey, I love you. When’s your election?’ Yesterday. So, it’s just getting those people who are supportive of us, who love us, like our message and reminding them that it’s this Tuesday.”

Peters and his running mate, former Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield, were out knocking doors in Medford Saturday morning alongside some Republican heavy hitters.

Former Burlington freeholder Kate Gibbs, who is eyeing a bid against Rep. Andy Kim next year, was there, as was State Republican Doug Steinhardt, whose presence at one point drew a “wow” from a voter standing in his doorway that was audible from the street.

The district’s Democratic candidates, Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale, were in much the same boat.

First Lady Tammy Murphy headlined a canvass launch at the Democrats’ headquarters in the early afternoon.

The Democratic candidates said they expect to knock on doors through election day and not much aside from that.

“Our goal is to get the message out to voters,” Natale said. “That’s what we’re focused on.”

Each side goes into the final days with their own advantages.

The Republicans have tenure.

Though Peters is a relatively new addition to the legislature—he won his first term in 2017 in a narrow victory—he’s built a brand for himself as a rising star in the Republican party, and Stanfield has been a well-known, not to mention well-liked, figure in the county for close to two decades, the time she served as sheriff.

She even gets recognized while door knocking.

“Quite frequently,” Stanfield said. “We’ve been out and about for years in Burlington County, and I’ve also gotten to know people in Hammonton now, so it’s a good feeling. We’re getting great responses from everyone.”

Democrats have a clear resource advantage.

While both camps have sent out mailers — 13 for the Republicans and more than 10 for the Democrats — the challengers have benefitted from a roughly equal number sent out by the General Majority PAC.

Both sides are up on TV, though the Democrats have had their ads airing for six weeks, both on cable and network broadcasts, at times.

“People definitely notice it,” LaPlaca said. “When we go to doors now, they usually say ‘I saw you on TV’ or ‘I got your mail piece. Now, I recognize your face.’ So, we’re glad that people are seeing that and responding to it. It’s exciting to have that kind of support and those kinds of resources to get our message out.”

The campaign in the eighth was marked with a degree of animosity before the primary was even over.

That contest ended with Assemblyman Joe Howarth losing re-election after losing the support of the Burlington County Republican Organization over a belief that he attempted to join State Sen. Dawn Addiego when she defected to the Democratic party earlier this year.

“I can’t think of a better analogy: I traded some low draft pick and I got Tom Brady,” Peters said. “It’s been great to go from Joe to Jean, and I’m loving it.”

That animosity has bled through to the general.

On Saturday, Peters, a former Navy SEAL, accused his opponents of fielding social media trolls to hamper his chances at re-election.

“I discovered today that two of my more prolific trolls on Facebook are being paid by them to just do negative comments on my community page, not my campaign one, my legislative page,” he said. “So, at every turn, they’re doing just an underhanded tactic, and I don’t think it’s working.”

The Democrats denied the charge.

“If anyone has paid trolls, it’s their side,” LaPlaca said.

The Democrats currently lead by three points in mail-in ballots, but that’s no guarantee of a victory.

The race might well again come down to results Hammonton, an Atlantic County — the only one in the district — town of about 15,000 that brought Republicans a comeback victory in 2017.

Both sides are campaigning there, though the Democrats are focusing more on wracking up margins in the Burlington and Camden portions of the district.

In either case, the race will be one of the closest in New Jersey this year.

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