TOMS RIVER - Ocean County Republicans on Saturday unanimously endorsed Jon Runyan for Congress, giving the former Philadelphia Eagle and San Diego Charger the support of the 3rd Congressional District's two largest political organizations.

Burlington County Republicans backed Runyan, 36, of Mount Laurel, on Tuesday. Saturday's endorsement - made after the other four candidates interviewed by the screening committee declined to seek the nomination - prevents a contested primary and clears the way for Runyan to run against first-term U.S. Rep. John Adler, D-3rd, in the fall.

Republicans lost control of the seat in 2008 for the first time in a century, following a contentious primary that saw the Burlington and Ocean County parties back different candidates.

"It's imperative we have a united stance going into the election," Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore said Saturday, adding that Runyan would be able to raise the money needed to compete.

Adler is a potent fundraiser. Federal campaign records show he has already raised $1.7 million and spent $1.4 million in the current 2009-10 cycle - a little less than half of the $3 million he spent in 2008.

The 3rd Congressional District includes all of southern Ocean County, most of Burlington County, and Cherry Hill in Camden County.

"Now let's get to the campaigning and get all the hard work rolling," Runyan said after Saturday's endorsement. He expected a formal kickoff in the coming week.

The candidate said he was concerned about health care and unemployment, saying the federal economic stimulus bill has not created jobs.

"We have to get this spending under control and stop scaring employers with this health care bill," Runyan said. "Everybody is standing there frozen and waiting for things to develop."

He supported allowing people to buy health care policies across state lines, saying that "is the huge first step to bring down the competition and the lower price."

Runyan said the main thing that distinguished him from Adler, a Harvard-trained attorney who served in the state Senate from 1991 to 2009, was "I'm not a politician. I'm not even going to try to act like one. I'm a commonsense, no-nonsense type of person, and that's the attitude I want to take with me to Congress."

He said he would run as a regular person. "I will have the celebrity-athlete thing thrown on me, and I'll have to disprove that."

Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore said Runyan was a very serious person who wanted to run for office to change the direction of the country for his children and grandchildren.

"He knows the issues, and he's sincere about wanting to get elected to congress," Gilmore said.

He also said Runyan would work hard. "Through college and pro football, he was always in a situation where he had to prove himself," Gilmore said. "I think he will bring this same can-do attitude to the congressional race."

Contact Derek Harper:

609-272-7046