Donald Norcross launched his campaign for Congress on Monday, casting himself as a champion of the middle class who went from being unemployed to a labor leader and state senator.
"I'm running for Congress because South Jersey needs to continue to have an effective advocate, a voice in Washington who understands the issues that matter most to our families," Norcross (D., Camden), 55, said at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Bellmawr before more than 100 supporters.
Norcross is seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews in the First District. Andrews announced this month that he was resigning and taking a job with a Philadelphia law firm.
Norcross was joined on stage by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, and other top South Jersey Democrats.
"That's what this campaign is about: jobs for American workers, affordable educational opportunities for our children, and ensuring South Jersey gets its fair share," said Norcross, assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 351.
Notably absent from the campaign kickoff was Norcross' older brother George E. Norcross III, the Democratic power broker who is majority owner of The Inquirer's parent company.
"I assume they're doing what they do every day: working," Norcross said of his brothers, George, John, and Philip.
Asked by reporters about George Norcross' influence on his candidacy, Donald Norcross said: "I think what you saw today is the outpouring of support not only in the . . . district but South Jersey. . . . I think, quite frankly, it's about my message and what I've been able to do as a senator, and I hope to take that to Washington."
In response to Norcross' campaign event, former Eagle Garry Cobb, a Republican from Cherry Hill, said he was "very interested" in running and would decide within the next few weeks.
"It seems like they want this to be a coronation. Basically, you've got these party bosses that are going to decide who's going to sit in that seat," Cobb, a sports radio personality on WIP who has not sought office before, told reporters outside the Pub in Pennsauken. "But that's the people's seat. They don't own that seat."
Thomas Booth, chairman of the Camden County Republican Party, described Democratic stewardship of the district as "an abject failure across the board."
"The political elite and Democratic power brokers seek to take the choice from the people," Booth said in a statement. "Well, I've got news for you: Norcross doesn't own that congressional seat. It's the people's seat and it is the people who will decide who represents them, not Norcross."
Andrews cast his final vote in the House last week. He said previously that he was stepping down for family reasons, not because of a congressional ethics investigation into his use of campaign funds.
On the same day Andrews said he would resign, South Jersey Democratic leaders quickly threw their support behind Norcross. He declined Monday to speculate on who might run for his state Senate seat.
Another Democrat who has expressed interest in the House seat is Logan Township Mayor Frank Minor.
Minor said he had formed an exploratory committee but acknowledged that challenging Norcross would be tough. "You're running against George Norcross," he said. "We understand that. People deserve a choice."
The seat will be vacant until November unless Gov. Christie calls a special election.
Elected to the Assembly in 2009, Norcross replaced Redd in the Senate when she became mayor in January 2010.
With regard to legislative accomplishments, Norcross touted his support of the Economic Opportunity Act, signed into law last year, which changed the state's economic-incentives programs and set aside millions of dollars for development for low-income cities such as Camden.
Also joining him Monday was Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, a Democrat running to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan, also a former Eagle, in the Third District.
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