Joseph Kyrillos, a Republican New Jersey lawmaker who ran Governor Chris Christie’s election campaign, said he’d vote to repeal the federal health-care act and cut spending as he began his bid for U.S. Senate.
Kyrillos, 51, seeks to challenge Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez, who had $6.9 million in his campaign fund as of Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission data. A New Jersey Republican hasn’t won a U.S. Senate seat since 1972, the last victory for four-term incumbent Clifford P. Case.
“Washington is failing us,” Kyrillos said during his announcement speech in Lincroft. “Bob Menendez made things worse, yet he wants six more years to do more of the same. New Jersey taxpayers -- our children, our grandchildren, our families -- can’t afford six more years of Bob Menendez.”
Christie was the first Republican to win statewide election in 12 years in New Jersey, where Democrats hold an edge of almost 700,000 registered voters. Kyrillos was chairman of Christie’s 2009 campaign and a member of his transition team.
Kyrillos kicked off his Senate race at the Lincroft Inn with more than 100 supporters, including Christie’s father, Bill, who sat with the Kyrillos family at the front of the crowd. The candidate, who called the governor a friend and an ally, downplayed the role Christie would have in the race, saying he would run his own campaign outside of the governor’s shadow.
“This is a race that I’m running -- the governor has enough to do running this state and doing all of the assorted chores that he has along the way,” Kyrillos said. “Naturally, he’s been a role model not only for me but for people all around the country to show that you can get things in order and put things back on track.”
Christie, who defeated one-term Democrat Jon Corzine in 2009 after pledging to fix state finances without raising taxes, has said New Jersey is starting to shake off the lingering effects of the recession that began in December 2007. Kyrillos cited that perceived success and the pension and benefits overhaul spearheaded by Christie last year as examples of places where he and his party have prevailed.
Kyrillos represents New Jersey’s 13th legislative district, which includes part of Monmouth County, and lives in Middletown. He was elected at the age of 27 to the Assembly, where he served two terms before he was voted into the Senate in 1991. Democrats hold majorities in both legislative chambers.
Kyrillos said he voted for a $2.8 billion pension bond that former Republican Governor Christine Whitman used in 1997 to pare a gap in the fund, which provides retirement benefits to teachers and government workers. As stocks sank in 2001, the payment on the bonds became larger than returns, and Whitman and successors began skipping contributions.
New Jersey’s pension deficit was $41.8 billion as of June, according to the state treasury. Republicans were on a path toward fixing the system prior to Democrats winning control of the Legislature in the last decade, Kyrillos said. The deficit grew as Republicans were out of power, and the recent fixes are the types of steps that need to be taken in Washington, he said.
Kyrillos was chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee from 2001-2004 and was New Jersey Chairman of Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. If elected to the Senate, Kyrillos said he would vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care law, support a balanced federal budget amendment, and would seek to cut spending and limit taxes.
Menendez, 58, in a statement issued by his campaign, said his adversary voted against a tax on millionaires and funding for stem-cell research, and called him a “20-year Trenton insider.”
“Senator Menendez is proud to run on his record of working to restore financial security for New Jersey’s middle-class families, helping protect and create thousands of New Jersey jobs and taking on powerful special interests,” the campaign said in the statement. “The contrast is stark.”
Republicans aren’t likely to mount a sustained push for New Jersey in this year’s presidential election, Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, said in a telephone interview. As a result, Kyrillos may find himself deprived of any coattails from the top of the ticket, Dworkin said.
“We can expect a very strong turnout from the heavily Democratic urban areas, and I wouldn’t expect in the end any major Republican play for New Jersey,” Dworkin said. “You’ll see heavy Democratic turnout and that will favor Menendez.”
Menendez defeated Kyrillos, 43 percent to 31 percent, in a hypothetical matchup, according to Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind survey in Madison, New Jersey. Their Jan. 31 poll of 800 registered voters from Jan. 2-8 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.