Insurance Issues at Heart of New Jersey Congressional Race

By GEOFF MULVIHILL | September 15, 2014

Democrats see New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District as one of their best chances to pick up a House seat in November’s general election in a race full of early spending on accusatory ads, and in which the insurance business looms large.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has run commercials accusing Republican Tom MacArthur of profiting off the misfortune of others as the former owner of an insurance firm that has settled lawsuits from disaster victims who claimed they were not paid for all their losses.

MacArthur’s campaign, meanwhile, notes that Democrat Aimee Belgard worked as an insurance adjuster and then a lawyer sometimes representing insurance companies in disputes over claims.

Voters in the district, which stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs to the New Jersey shore, should brace for hearing more of it. Each party’s congressional campaign operations have reserved between $1 million and $2 million in television airtime next month in the Philadelphia market that can be used for ads in the 3rd District and in a pair of competitive races in Pennsylvania.

The race to replace Jon Runyan, a Republican and former NFL player who is not seeking re-election after serving two terms in Congress, is the only one of 12 congressional contests in New Jersey that both parties seem to be sweating. And analysts believe it could go either way.

MacArthur, who is also the former mayor of the northern New Jersey community of Randolph, moved into the district to seek the seat. In the Republican primary, he defeated Steve Lonegan, another former northern New Jersey mayor who had just moved south.

Belgard, a Democrat serving on the freeholder board in mostly Republican Burlington County, had an easy time getting her party’s nomination in June.

Both candidates say their top issues include creating jobs and maintaining Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the largest employer in the district.

Unlike many races, the campaigns and their supporters did not wait for Labor Day weekend to get rolling.

The DCCC put up an ad bashing MacArthur on Aug. 12, making it the first commercial it aired anywhere in the nation for this fall’s election.

The commercial used scenes of natural disasters as the narrator talked about a lawsuit against York Insurance Services Group, which MacArthur had owned. Like Lonegan ads during before the Republican primary in June, it accused MacArthur of profiting while shirking on obligations to make payments to disaster victims. After complaints, the ad was amended to make it clear that it was the company, not MacArthur himself, who was sued.

MacArthur, whose campaign has been funded so far largely by $3 million of his own money, has struck back with a website dedicated to blasting Belgard. Among other issues, the campaign seized on her help from prominent Democrats such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden, saying that she will only toe the Democratic line. Belgard said she has a record in local politics of working with Republicans and sometimes bucking Democrats.

MacArthur defends his time in insurance, saying he joined York when it had about 100 employees. It now has 4,000. “We were in a business of being able to help people in a moment of need. That’s why we grew so much,” he said.

MacArthur said that the critics are pointing out three lawsuits out of more than 1 million settlements. And he said Belgard should know that because of her experience in insurance.

Belgard said she worked in an insurance office during summers when she was in college, moving from a file clerk to a desk job over the years. And as a lawyer, she said she defended insurance firms in some cases but also has represented policyholders.

“It’s such a contrast to somebody who is the CEO of a company in the insurance industry,” she said.

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