The current Atlantic County sheriff and a first-time political candidate are running for the Republican nomination for state Senate in the Second Legislative District, which includes most of Atlantic County.
Sheriff Frank X. Balles is the party’s endorsed candidate. He faces Marybeth Bennett, an optician running her first campaign.
The winner will take on Democratic state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, in November’s election. Whelan has no opposition in Tuesday’s primary.
There have been no debates and little contact between Balles and Bennett beyond a handful of candidates forums.
Balles, 51, of Egg Harbor Township, said he is running a campaign on issues and his record. Among other things, he said he strongly opposed expanded casino gambling.
“You have to fight tooth and nail to make sure casinos never leave the boundaries of Atlantic City,” he said.
He has spent most of the campaign getting people acquainted with him, including attending dozens of public events, talking to the local Republican clubs and organizations and visiting many, if not all, local government meetings.
“That’s just what I do as the sheriff,” Balles said. “There has been a lot of making contact with people at their homes.”
“Basically, it has been a grassroots campaign about telling the public who I am,” he said, adding he hasn’t advertised.
Throughout the spring, Balles has looked ahead to the fall race, targeting Whelan, not Bennett, in press releases.
Being a police supervisor in Pleasantville and a business owner in addition to serving as the county sheriff, Balles said, “I think ... it makes me a far better candidate than any other one that’s in this race.”
Bennett, 48, of Egg Harbor Township, is running as one of a number of candidates supported by conservative activist and gubernatorial candidate Seth Grossman. She said her campaign was informed by her experience as a licensed optician, who operated a business with her husband, and her state prosecution for illegal bird-rescuing.
She said that, as a woman, she would bring a different perspective to the state Legislature.
“I think the Republican Party has a hard time relating with women, and I think that I can bridge that gap,” she said. “It was funny. When I saw the Republican Party’s choice to go against Whelan (Balles), I really decided to jump in the race.”
On casinos, she said she was unsure about whether they should be allowed to open in the Meadowlands, saying campaigning has kept her from reviewing the material.
She described herself as a strong Second Amendment supporter, saying that as a gun owner she believes gun ownership is clearly an individual right and not one tied to a militia.
“I was full-time in the private sector, and I have been cut down to less than full time, so I know what that is like,” she said. “I’m not on the system, so I don’t have a guaranteed pension, I don’t have a guaranteed income coming in. When I go to Trenton, I want to address a lot of issues.”
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