Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport) and former Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield spent part of Saturday attending community-day events in Evesham and Hainesport under a blistering sun.
The two candidates are spending the closing days of their increasingly-nasty primary fight against Assemblyman Joe Howarth (R-Evesham) attending events in the district in addition to canvassing efforts typically employed in the run-up to an election.
On Sunday, they’ll attend a barbecue followed by events in Hammonton.
Both sides have put their messages in voters’ mailboxes.
Howarth has sent out at least nine mailers, many of which attack the county-backed candidates over their refusal to sign a loyalty pledge to President Donald Trump and opposition to his policies, including the Stanfield’s ignoring a detainer request from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement during her tenure as Burlington’s Sheriff.
Howarth, who did not respond to calls and text messages seeking an interview, has recently styled himself as a MAGA Republican despite criticizing Trump on Facebook in 2015.
Peters and Stanfield have used one of their mailers to highlight that apparent turnaround but say they’ve kept the rest of their mail pieces mostly positive in order to tie together their candidacy.
It’s possible voters that aren’t tuned into the details regarding Burlington Republicans’ loss of confidence in Howarth could be confused by two incumbents running against each other in a primary.
That confusion could swing this year’s primaries, which are expected to see low turnout with Assembly races at the top of the ticket
The county party dropped their support for Howarth over a belief that he attempted to switch parties along with State Sen. Dawn Addiego when the latter defected from the GOP earlier this year.
Though he denies it, sources on both sides of the aisle have told the New Jersey Globe that Howarth attempted to jump ship with Addiego, but those efforts were stymied by local Democrats in Burlington who said they wouldn’t back Howarth in a primary.
Unlike the assemblyman, Addiego isn’t up for re-election this year and has time to align her voting record with the Democratic party’s policy priorities.
Democratic organizations in the district are backing Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale, but Howarth’s opponents claim Democratic power brokers are backing him as well.
The Assemblyman recently received $8,200 from the Iron Worker’s Local #399, the union of Senate President Steve Sweeney, and $8,200 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 351, which Rep. Donald Norcross ran before he was elected to Congress.
Sources have told the New Jersey Globe that Democrats would prefer to face Howarth in the general election.
Peters appears to agree with those sources.
He said Democrats were attempting to “knock us off in the primary by running a fake candidate.”
The eighth legislative district will likely host on of the year’s most competitive primary races.
Democrats almost flipped its seats in 2017, when Howarth beat Mary Ann Merlino by 645 votes and Peters won a first term over Burlington County Freeholder Joanne Schwartz by just 350 votes.
Howarth got 170 more votes than Peters did that year, but running as a pro-Trump Republican could prove fatal for Howarth in the General.
Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 2,532 votes in the eighth district in 2016, and the huge margin Rep. Andy Kim wracked up in the district allowed him to unseat former Rep. Tom MacArthur.
But, that only becomes important if Howarth makes it out of the primary.
Sources within the county told the New Jersey Globe that Howarth has largely eschewed appearances at events in order to focus on door-knocking efforts.
He wasn’t present at Hainesport’s community day celebration, though party-backed candidates on either side were there talking to voters. His absence was noted even by his Democratic opponents, who are facing a primary challenge from Johnny Bravo but are expected to win the nod without much of a challenge.
The same, obviously, is not true for the GOP candidates.
“It’s nice that the infighting’s not on the Democratic side for once,” LaPlaca said.