Seth Grossman has sought to position himself as the conservative alternative to popular incumbent Gov. Chris Christie, but the 64-year-old Somers Point resident has struggled to get his message out statewide.
Both men will be on Tuesday’s Republican primary ballot.
While Christie has raised $6.5 million as of May 21, in part to finance what is expected to be a high-powered fall campaign, state election files showed that by the same time Grossman had raised $11,480.
That’s part of the problem, Grossman explained: “You can’t be successful as a candidate without making the sorts of deals that keep you from being a successful official.”
So far, Christie’s campaign has all but ignored Grossman, not targeting him in any advertisements or campaigns, and not directly addressing issues raised by him.
“We’re focusing on running a campaign that talks about the governor’s record, and it’s an aggressive campaign,” said Kevin Roberts, Christie’s campaign spokesman.
Roberts said the campaign does not take anything for granted, but he acknowledged it seemed focused on the general election and the likely contest against Democrat Barbara Buono, a state senator from Middlesex County.
Any contact between the campaigns has been tentative. Grossman said that when he tried to hand out campaign material outside a February Christie town-hall meeting in Montville Township, Morris County, campaign staff stopped him, and police were called.
But after complaining online, Grossman said, no one stopped him from giving away fliers about two weeks later at a Christie town-hall in Paterson.
Grossman works as an attorney and is a former Atlantic City councilman and Atlantic County freeholder who said both parties targeted him for removal because he supported smaller-government platforms.
He has run this spring on many of the same issues he supported as the former leader of Somers Point’s proto-tea party group, Liberty and Prosperity. For about a decade, that group has pushed a message of limited government and reduced spending, arguing, Grossman said, “We don’t need smart people to fix everyone’s problems. We need a simpler system that doesn’t take so much in taxes.”
He said he hopes the campaign has pushed his ideas to a broader audience. “If the campaign succeeds in educating 10,000 to 20,000 people,” Grossman said, “that’s more good than 10 years of holding Saturday breakfast discussions on the issues.”
He also sought to revive New Jersey’s tea party movement, saying in an earlier interview he was “getting the Steve Lonegan band back together.”
Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, Bergen County, received 140,946 votes, or more than 42 percent, when he ran as the conservative alternative to Christie in the 2009 Republican gubernatorial primary. But the movement has splintered in New Jersey, Grossman said.
Lonegan, the state director of Americans for Prosperity, sat out this year. After Grossman filed to run for office, Lonegan told his onetime ally to drop out of the race.
In a statement, Lonegan said, “Just sticking your name on the ballot and running around in a helter-skelter fashion with no message, no support and no money is nothing more than a distraction and plays into the hands of those who support more government and oppose economic freedom.”
One issue Grossman has focused on is his belief that the state should refuse to repay any debt not directly authorized by voters, as required by New Jersey’s constitution. According to Grossman’s campaign website, that would cancel out all but $4 billion of about $240 billion in debt.
Grossman agreed this would be “the functional equivalent” of state bankruptcy but argued, “there’s no way that we can pay that off.”
Throughout the campaign, he has sought similar-minded candidates to run in his column in Tuesday’s election. He has partially succeeded, attracting legislative candidates in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Hudson and Morris counties, all of whom will be on the ballot alongside Grossman.
The campaign has been a learning experience, Grossman said, teaching him, for instance, that he should have started earlier and that social media has become valuable.
Overall, he said Tuesday’s primary “will be an interesting controlled experience that will teach some lessons on how to run some campaigns.”
Contact Derek Harper:
Follow @dnharper on Twitter