Republican Steve Lonegan announces Friday at the Shore Diner in Egg Harbor Township he is running for the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Steve Lonegan believes he can become the first Republican senator from New Jersey in 41 years. And he will do it by challenging Barrack Obama and the Democratic Party.

Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota who challenged Gov. Chris Christie in the 2009 Republican primary for governor, is the first Republican to announce he will run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of former senator Frank Lautenberg who died last week. He met with residents at the Shore Diner on Tilton Road on Friday to discuss his platform and goals for the campaign.

Lonegan said he believes he won’t have any opposition for the primary and it will be “smooth sailing” to the general election.

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His goal for the election is to challenge the policies of the president and the Democrats.

“We’re bringing together conservatives, tea party members, established Republicans and Reagan Democrats,” he said. “We’ll beat whoever the Democrats put up in October.”

Democrats including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt are expected to compete in the Aug. 13 primary.

Lonegan said there will be a lot of national attention on the October vote. He noted Obama’s controversial health plan will come into effect on Oct. 1 and this election will be a referendum on the administration and current policies such as gun control and recent allegations of the IRS targeting certain conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, and the government working with Verizon to obtain customers’ personal information.

Lonegan also said he does not support welfare for illegal immigrants, would require alcohol and drug testing for recipients of welfare, and would dismantle the IRS — which he called a “big, disgusting bureaucracy.” He said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, but would be against a Constitutional amendment, stating it is a state’s rights issue.

The candidate said he believed he will have Christie’s support and applauded the governor’s decision to not have the Senate election in November.

“It’s a remarkable move,” he said. “This election will be free of other races. The October race is about one thing — Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s agenda.”

About 30 residents gathered for the meeting. They represented various conservative and Republican groups. Dennis Mahon, chair of the Northfield Republican Party, invited Lonegan to meet with residents and make his official announcement for Senate in South Jersey.

“We all believe in conservative principles,” he said. “Our debt is humongous and no one seems to be doing anything about it.”

Many in the group had collected petitions for Lonegan — who must collect 1,000 signatures by 4 p.m. Monday to be eligible to run.

Petersburg resident Jan Knepper has been following Lonegan since his gubernatorial campaign in 2009 and said he is a true conservative candidate.

“He’s someone who understands the Constitution, a free market and preserving the second amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights,” Knepper said. “He will stand up for our rights and freedoms.”

The winner of the October election will fill Lautenberg’s current term and the seat will be up for election again in November 2014.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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