In 1992, the election night headline was “Bill Hughes defeats Frank LoBiondo.”
It remains to be seen if that will be the news this Nov. 4, but candidates of the same names will face off again.
Twenty-two years ago, Democrat William J. Hughes Sr. had just defeated Republican New Jersey Assemblyman Frank LoBiondo, 56 percent to 42 percent, to garner his 10th congressional term from the Second District. It would be his last.
Hughes decided not to run in 1994 but LoBiondo ran again, defeating Democrat Lou Magazzucq by almost a 2-1 margin.
It would be the first of LoBiondo’s 10 victories. Tuesday’s primary sets up a rematch of sorts: LoBiondo, seeking his eleventh term, will run against Bill Hughes Jr., the son of the man LoBiondo replaced 20 years ago, seeking his first.
The match was set as LoBiondo defeated challenger Mike Assadcq in the GOP primary while Hughes won the Democratic primary over David Colecq of Gloucester County.
Democrats gathered at the Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield Tuesday night, eagerly awaiting results.
By 9:20 p.m. Hughes was ready to move onto the next race. Announcing his victory over Cole, Hughes took aim at LoBiondo and said, "Government is supposed to work for us and you have not."
He talked of the region’s relatively high unemployment, which will likely be a major theme in the fall election.
"We don't live in a Democratic district. We don't live in a Republican district," Hughes said. "We live in an unemployed district."
LoBiondo, however, can point to his endorsements including business groups, teachers and law enforcement officers. If jobs are the issue, why are they all supporting him?
LoBiondo, during a visit with honor students at the Glenwood Avenue School in Wildwood on Tuesday afternoon, said he expects the matchup to be more challenging than some of the opponents he has faced.
“My opponent clearly has name recognition from his father. I fall back on my record, the groups I’ve worked with and the progress I’ve made in the district,” said LoBiondo.
Name recognition can go a long way in politics but LoBiondo has created a name for himself over the years, partly by following the playbook established by Bill Hughes Sr.
The elder Hughes was a Democrat in Republican territory but was not afraid to buck his own party in Washington. He often voted with the Republicans and sometimes even voted against the wishes of Democratic presidents. He was also successful bringing federal dollars into the district and had a strong environmental voting record. Hughes Sr. was so popular in the eight-county district that the Republicans had a hard time finding opponents to run against him and, like LoBiondo, he won most of his elections handily.
Hughes Sr. often worked with Republicans in Washington in a bipartisan way to get legislation enacted that helped the district.
LoBiondo has also been known to cast votes against the GOP and has worked with Democrats on issues such as beach funding, keeping the Coast Guard in Cape May, veteran’s benefits and many others. He consistently gets high marks from green groups for his environmental voting record.
“A lot of what I’ve done is bipartisan. My track record is to put the district first and I can point to that repeatedly. When the Republicans take the right position, I’m charging hard. When they don’t, the district comes first,” said LoBiondo.
Hughes Sr. of Ocean City also had a strong reputation for helping constituents, came home to the district on most weekends, and had a “mobile office” in the district.
LoBiondo is following the same path. He stays in Washington Monday through Friday but spends the weekends in the district, staying at his home in Ventnor and making numerous appearances at community events on Saturdays and Sundays.
“I’ve never stopped. I don’t stop in an off (non-election) year. I drive myself back and forth. I’m always home on weekends and try to always listen to people and answer their questions,” said LoBiondo.
There was no campaigning on Tuesday for LoBiondo as he made about 10 stops around the district meeting with constituents.
“I’m just doing district stuff. It’s hard to campaign in a primary the way you do in a general and you have to make a decision on whether to spend money,” said LoBiondo.
Saving the money to fight Hughes instead of primary challenger Assad was probably an easy call. He defeated Assad easily.
Even before the primary Hughes and LoBiondo were already running against each other, touting their endorsements and sitting back as national Republican and Democratic organizations in Washington took shots at the other side.
LoBiondo appears to be winning the endorsement battle. As expected, both have strong backing from leaders in their political parties but LoBiondo is getting outside groups including: the National Education Association, which brings with it backing from the New Jersey Education Association; the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which has 7,000 members in New Jersey; the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, with 16,000 law enforcement members in the state; the New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council, with more than 100 unions and 150,000 members statewide; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Hughes has a number of Democratic supporters but the only outside entity appears to be the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.
LoBiondo also is raising more money and has leftover funds from previous campaigns to rely on. Money, like name recognition, helps but it ultimately comes down to convincing voters. LoBiondo explained as much Tuesday to elementary school honor students in Wildwood.
“I go to the people of the district and say. ‘I think I’ve done a good job. If you think I’ve done a good job, please vote for me.’ There are other challengers who say they’re going to do a better job,” he explained.
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