(This story has been updated to reflect comment from Rep. Lance)
Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) is under fire from two of his Democratic opponents for inviting State Sen. Mike Doherty (R-Oxford) as his guest at the State of the Union address on Tuesday.
In an interview with The Record’s Mike Kelly this week, Doherty doubled down on his anti-immigration policies that some New Jersey politicians have viewed as a little bigoted. Doherty said that “people want to feel comfortable with their culture,” suggesting that immigrants from “non-European” countries don’t follow the “Judeo-Christian culture.”
“When Lance invited Doherty to the State of the Union, he is endorsing Doherty’s backward views on pay equity and immigration,” said Scott Salmon, a Scotch Plains attorney who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination to oppose Lance in the fall. “Lance is trying to have it both ways; by courting the left through his appearances on MSNBC and maintaining his base on the far right through photo ops with Doherty, he wants to have his cake and eat it too.”
Another candidate, Lisa Mandelblatt of Westfield, also excoriated Lance.
“Lance keeps playing a moderate on MSNBC, but he showed his true colors at the State of the Union,” Mandelblatt said. “While other member of Congress brought DREAMERS, Lance brought State Senator Mike Doherty who has repeatedly and rabidly made anti-immigrant and nativist statements.”
Lance’s office defended the congressman’s decision to invite Lance.
“These attacks are pathetic, sad and unpatriotic. Senator Michael Doherty is a duly elected official representing nearly 30 municipalities in the 7th Congressional District and a former Captain in the U.S. Army. He and his wife, Linda, have three sons serving on active duty in the military,” said Lance’s chief of staff, Todd Mitchell. “If anyone deserved a seat at the State of the Union to see the country’s commander-in-chief address the Nation it was Mike Doherty.”
During a debate in the New Jersey Senate over pay equality, Doherty lamented the challenges of being a white man in America. “Just because I’m a member of a certain group doesn’t mean that I can be denigrated over and over again. It’s got to stop at some point,” the Star-Ledger reported Doherty as saying.
Doherty served as chairman of Donald Trump’s New Jersey campaign, and endorsed Trump while Gov. Chris Christie was still in the race. He was elected to the Senate in a 2009 special election after Lance took his seat in Congress.