Former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan is looking to make abortion an issue in the fifth congressional district.
Lonegan sought to draw a sharp contrast on the issue between himself and incumbent Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who has voted against anti-abortion rights legislation at every given opportunity, at an endorsement event that featured pro-life groups N.J. Right to Life and Center for Garden State Families.
“I think society is waking up to this. I think they want to, at the bare minimum, at least see restrictions on the rampant – in terms of New Jersey, unrestricted – use of abortion as a means of birth control,” Lonegan said.
Abortion has long been a hotly-contested issue with roughly equal support on either end of the issue.
While a relatively slim majority of Americans, 57% according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in July, say Abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances, the number that considered themselves to be pro-choice and pro-life were far closer, at 49% and 46%, respectively, according to a Gallup poll conducted last May.
But those figures are a reflection of national attitudes. They’re hardly a cross section of the historically-red fifth district. Gottheimer narrowly ousted seven-term incumbent Rep. Scott Garret in 2016 largely as a result of anti-gay comments the former congressman is said to have made – abortion hardly broached the race as an issue.
What’s more, anti-abortion rights groups like N.J. Right to Life plan to campaign on Lonegan’s behalf. Marie Tasy, the group’s executive director, said that the district was a priority for her group largely because of Gottheimer’s stance on abortion.
The freshman representative is such a big target that Tasy would not rule out running television ads against him in the country’s most expensive media market, a prospect she said was somewhat unlikely but would ultimately depend on the budget of the organization’s political action committee.
“Obviously, our PAC has to meet, and we have to look at our budget and that sort of thing,” Tasy said. “But, we will be gearing up to do what we can – get the vote out, get message out to people about Steve through website, facebook, perhaps some mailings.”
Still, the impact of any particular issue on a given race is dictated by a group’s ability to organize. Tasy declined to share information about her group’s numbers in the district, so it’s not clear how big an impact the issue will have on Gottheimer’s chances of keeping his seat for a second term.
Gottheimer’s campaign did not seem to be overly concerned about the issue, turning Lonegan’s event into an opportunity to attack his stance on the issue.
“Tea Partier Steve Lonegan is once again parading his brand of extremism, opposing a woman’s right to choose even in cases of rape and incest,” said Gottheimer campaign spokesman Andy Edelson.
The pro-life groups have endorsed Lonegan over his primary opponent, former Cresskill councilman John McCann, while NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed Gottheimer in early April.
On several occasions throughout the event, Lonegan referred to Gottheimer as his opponent, indicating that the perennial candidate is already thinking past the end of what has so far been a particularly nasty primary between the former Bogota mayor and McCann, whose name was not mentioned once during Lonegan’s speech.
While Lonegan is favored in the primary race, a win over McCann, an attorney, is far from assured, particularly given that McCann has levelled charges similar to those that led to Scott Garrett’s downfall against Lonegan.
“They’re doing the ‘Lonegan’s a bigot, Lonegan’s a racist, Lonegan’s a homophobe.’ It’s all the democrat identification politics talking points,” Lonegan said. “We’ll have to deal with it. I think the public is fed up with that kind of nonsense. It’s not true, first and foremost, but you’ll say it anyway.”
Lonegan, a once anti-Trump Republican who has since switched his stance, could face troubles from Trump-loyal voters in the district. McCann has so far secured a greater number of endorsements from those linked to the president, including ones from former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka and the Veterans for Trump group.
McCann makes his run with the support of the Bergen County Republican Organization, but that does not seem to be much of a concern for Lonegan, who had little good to say about the organization.
“What BCRO support? The BCRO has no impact. It’s a non-entity. We have to build our own conservative Republican rganization,” Lonegan said. “We’re not counting on the BCRO for anything at all because it is pretty much a defunct organization.”