NORTHFIELD — State Sen. Jim Whelan formally kicked off his re-election campaign Wednesday, saying he hopes the race to represent the 2nd Legislative District in Trenton will be based on issues, instead of mudslinging.

“The last thing we need in our region, in our state, or even in our country is more of this partisan bickering, politics-of-destruction that we have seen,” said Whelan, D-Atlantic.

The 2011 Senate race in the district set spending records, as both parties spent more than $3 million contesting one of the few really contested seats in the Legislature. This year’s race is expected to draw similar attention.

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Whelan said he hopes the campaign will be based on his record and issues that the parties differ on, such as the minimum wage and access to women’s health care.

Whelan supports a higher minimum wage. “Somebody who works a 40-hour work week ought be able to live above the poverty line,” he said.

He also criticized earlier choices by Republican Gov. Chris Christie to reduce state funding for women’s health clinics, saying the state money would have accessed tens of millions of dollars in federal money. Christie has cited budget concerns for his veto.

“There are real differences and we hope that in the coming months we will be able to address those differences and to lay those issues out side by side,” Whelan said.

Whelan, with no declared primary challengers, is expected to face Republican candidate Frank X. Balles, the Atlantic County sheriff, in November.

In a statement Wednesday, Balles accused Whelan, without specifics, of voting for more than $4 billion in tax and fee increases and preferring “the tax, spend, and borrow agenda of former Gov. (Jon S.) Corzine,” a Democrat.

Whelan, of Atlantic City, is a former resort councilman who also served three terms as the city’s mayor. He won a seat in the General Assembly in 2005, and is seeking his third term in the Senate. He is running with Assembly candidates Vince Mazzeo and Nick Russo, the Democratic mayors of Northfield and Longport.

Now 64, he wouldn’t say if this would be his last term if elected. But having won his first race in 1981, he said now “it’s a hell of a lot closer to the end.”

Whelan was joined at the event Wednesday at the Harvey D. Johnson American Legion Post 295 by almost a dozen local and county elected officials, about 70 attendees, and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester.

Sweeney credited this week’s passage of Internet gaming legislation to Whelan’s persistence. “Jim never let go,” Sweeney said. “He was like a junkyard dog.”

Whelan later demurred, saying that without Sweeney there would be no Internet gambling.

Sweeney also addressed the 2011 race, saying area residents knew Whelan too well for negative campaigning to work. “They attacked him,” Sweeney said. “They threw the house, the kitchen sink, the neighbor’s house, the neighbor’s kitchen sink, but they couldn’t tear the guy down."

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