CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - As this year's 1st District campaign reaches its crescendo, the candidates want voters to know that Republican David DeWeese is getting a public pension and Sen. Jeff Van Drew is a Democrat and a dentist.
With horror music and the sound of dental drilling in the background, a list of fees and taxes Van Drew approved scrolls past superimposed dental X-rays in one ad.
"Open wide, taxpayers," the ad begins, comparing Van Drew's re-election to a root canal.
"That wasn't our ad," DeWeese said, but added, "I thought it was funny. I don't know how it was distributed."
The ad was sponsored by the Cape May County Republican Organization.
Republican challengers in the 1st District have far less cash on hand for traditional TV air time than their opponents, campaign finance reports show. Instead, they are posting their ads, including the dentistry one, on social media sites such as YouTube and Facebook.
Van Drew said the ad was hurtful to his profession.
"I know I'm a dentist. I believe a majority of my patients think I'm a gentle one," said Van Drew, whose practice is in Pleasantville. "That's a mean-spirited ad."
Both candidates said the other has stooped to negative attacks. DeWeese, who is making his first bid for state office, said he thinks that has worked in his favor by improving his name recognition among voters.
In a Cumberland County ad, also posted to Facebook, Republicans put Van Drew's face on a milk carton as "missing" for opting out of a candidates' forum sponsored by Millville First in October that Republicans attended.
Another Republican ad featured a clip of Van Drew saying he is a Democrat who at the end of the day sticks with his party. The video itself has no context, but Republicans in the campaign have accused Van Drew of campaigning as a conservative while voting along party lines.
"I'm a Democrat," Van Drew said Friday. "I've clearly always run under the Democratic banner. They know I am a Democrat, albeit a conservative Democrat. I never said I was anything but that."
Meanwhile, Democrats have criticized DeWeese in radio and television spots for receiving a pension for his part-time judgeships and work as a solicitor and prosecutor in towns that include Lower Township, West Cape May, Cape May Point, and Wildwood while making more public money as a lawyer for a joint insurance fund, an insurance pool for municipalities and counties.
Van Drew also stands to earn a pension for his public service as a Dennis Township mayor, Cape May County freeholder, and state lawmaker. But Van Drew said the criticism of DeWeese was fair.
"There are lots of folks who have no health insurance and no pension. They've lost their pensions in this economy," Van Drew said. "It's hard for him to say, ‘I'm a reformer of government. I believe we should spend less' and maintain that position."
Van Drew said that if DeWeese wins Tuesday, he would collect a Senate salary on top of his work with the joint insurance fund.
"All of that is public dollars," Van Drew said.
DeWeese said it is unfair to criticize municipal judges for taking work in multiple towns. Judges face severe restrictions on any private legal practice, he said.
"It's an unfair attack on public employees and public service," DeWeese said. "I paid into the pension system for 25 years. I receive the same benefit that anyone else would get for serving 25 years."
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