MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey Republican congressional candidate criticized his Democratic opponent Friday amid mounting evidence that Democratic officials planted a tea party candidate in the race to siphon off conservative votes.
"My opponent, John Adler, represents everything that is wrong with politics in our country today," Republican Jon Runyan said. "I would ask for an apology. But frankly, an apology from someone like Congressman Adler would be so meaningless that it's not worth seeking."
He spoke at a news conference as Adler, a first-term Democratic lawmaker, and his campaign remained mum about a report in the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill in which Democratic operatives speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed what Republicans have believed for months: That tea-party candidate Peter DeStefano was put on the ballot by Democrats.
The operatives said a county Democratic employee is running at least the Web elements of DeStefano's campaign.
Tea party organizations, which have denounced DeStefano since he entered the race in June, called on him Friday to quit. About 50 tea party activists gathered in protest outside a restaurant in Medford where DeStefano had scheduled a fundraiser Friday night.
DeStefano arrived at the fundraiser after the protesters left and told reporters he would remain in the race, but he would not answer specific questions about the newspaper's report, dismissing the allegations as "hearsay."
"I'm an average guy who's running for Congress on the independent ticket," DeStefano said.
One tea party group, the West Jersey Tea Party, said it plans to file a voter-fraud lawsuit against Adler next week.
Adler has previously denied the accusations. Adler and top officials in Adler's campaign and did not return calls or e-mails from The Associated Press on Friday.
In an August interview with the AP, DeStefano excoriated both Adler and Runyan.
He fended off questions about Republicans' accusations and tea party organizations' claims that he wasn't even a member, though he was running for Congress with the slogan "New Jersey Tea Party." While there are several tea party groups in New Jersey, none goes by that name. Some tea party groups are supporting Runyan.
"Any American citizen can run for any office they want," DeStefano said. "I think it's time we get past this crap."
He refused to answer questions about precisely when he decided to run.
In August, Adler told the Courier-Post: "I know we weren't part of it."
Runyan said his campaign was looking into whether there's any legal action that could be taken against Adler.
The operatives told the Courier-Post that the plan was shared with members of the South Jersey Young Democrats, and some in that group gathered signatures for DeStefano — while others didn't because they thought the plan was unethical.
Republicans started raising suspicions about DeStefano months ago when they found many of the signatures on his nominating petitions were from Democrats, including a former Adler campaign staffer.
The campaign has been nasty and not especially focused on policy issues.
Adler has criticized Runyan for eschewing open-format debates, keeping donkeys on his property to qualify part of it for a lower agricultural tax rate and not denouncing spending by independent conservative groups that have targeted Adler.
Runyan, meanwhile, has expressed outrage, claiming Adler falsely tried to link him with Republicans who want to privatize Social Security. He also filed charges accusing an Adler campaign volunteer of harassing his 8-year-old daughter while she played outside Runyan's home.
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