LoBiondo keeps his seat in House

(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008.)

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo staved off a Democratic challenge to hold onto his congressional seat as a rare Republican to survive Tuesday’s Democratic sweep.

LoBiondo, R-2nd, defeated Democrat Dave Kurkowski and four other candidates by a comfortable margin but didn’t claim victory until 10:53 p.m., well after the region’s other races were called.

Kurkowski, a Cape May city councilman, conceded about a half-hour earlier, but LoBiondo remained silent on the victory’s results. He stayed late at the North Italy Hall in Vineland well after most of the approximately 200 Republicans gathered there had filtered out for the night. He watched on television as Republican Chris Myers conceded his race in the adjacent 3rd Congressional District against state Sen. John Adler, D-Camden. LoBiondo had seen earlier reports that Myers was leading with 56 percent of the vote, and he refused to claim victory until a major media outlet called the race.

At 10:53 p.m., the remaining Republicans at the North Italy Hall broke into applause at news that they had gotten their first regional win of the night.

“This was a hard wave to overcome,” LoBiondo said of the day’s Democratic sweep.

But he did overcome it, defeating challenger Cape May City Councilman Dave Kurkowski, of whom few had heard prior to the race.

“It was a great honor to be on the ticket with a guy who’s going to be one of the best presidents of our history, Barack Obama,” Kurkowski said.

LoBiondo, a seven-term incumbent, first won election to the House in 1994 as part of a Republican wave of legislators who swept to wins under the proposed “Contract with America.” He won seven elections from 1994 through 2006 with more than 60 percent of the vote each time.

This year, LoBiondo relied on his record, one of the House’s most independent since 2000. He touted his successes in securing beach replenishment funding, as well as his willingness to buck his party. He voted against the recent $700 billion financial bailout plan, supported a minimum wage hike to $7.25, and for a Democrat-backed children’s health insurance program, all votes against his party leadership.

“I don’t answer to anyone in Washington,” LoBiondo said during his victory speech. “I answer to all of you.”

Kurkowski brought an unexpectedly sharp challenge against LoBiondo on issues. He labeled LoBiondo as a “back bencher” in Congress who lacked influence. Kurkowski criticized LoBiondo, the former chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, for his lack of oversight on the Deepwater project, a $24 billion modernization of the Coast Guard’s fleet that improved helicopters but left Coast Guard cutters with radios that were not waterproof. He also labeled LoBiondo as no more than a Republican follower, criticizing his vote for the Iraq War and other military policies supported by the Bush administration.

Kurkowski never found the financial means to adequately publicize himself, however. Even in the days before the election, some Democratic stalwarts in the western part of his district said they knew nothing about him. When Cumberland County Democratic Chairman Lou Magazzu became the first Democratic leader to back Kurkowski’s candidacy, he touted Kurkowski’s ability to finance his own campaign with his personal resources. His campaign raised more than $173,000, more than most of LoBiondo’s past challengers, but that was a pittance compared with the more than $1.2 million available to LoBiondo.

The race may have been closer because of a huge change in voter registration. In 2006, registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the district by more than 3,000. This year, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 16,000, thanks largely to increased voter registrations in the district.

The 2nd Congressional District spans all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties, as well as parts of Gloucester, Burlington and Camden counties.

E-mail Daniel Walsh: DWalsh@pressofac.com

LoBiondo’s election results, 1992-2006

1992: William J. Hughes 56%, Frank A. LoBiondo 41%

1994: Frank LoBiondo 65%, Louis N. Magazzu 35%

1996: Frank LoBiondo 60%, Ruth Katz 38%

1998: Frank LoBiondo 66%, Derek Hunsberger 31%

2000: Frank LoBiondo 66%, Edward G. Janosik 32%

2002: Frank LoBiondo 69%, Steven A. Farkas 28%

2004: Frank LoBiondo 65%, Timothy J. Robb 33%

2006: Frank LoBiondo 62%, Viola Thomas-Hughes 35%

Source-U.S House of Representatives, Office of the Clerk