Former NFL player takes lead in poll, despite presence of Democrat-backed Tea Party candidate

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
Font Size:

Former NFL player Jon Runyan said in an interview with The Daily Caller that he’s not sweating bullets about whether a third-party Tea Party candidate recruited by Democrats could siphon votes away from his Republican campaign for Congress.

“You don’t worry about things like that,” Runyan said by phone Wednesday.

Polls show that he might be on to something. Real Clear Politics just moved his race from “tossup” to “leans Republican.” And another poll released this week shows Runyan leading New Jersey Democrat Rep. John Adler 48 percent to 43 percent among likely voters.

The director of that poll says the presence of Peter DeStefano, the third party candidate, may have even backfired for the Democrats who recruited him to harm Runyan’s chances.

“There was some concern by Republicans that a so-called Tea Party candidate would hurt their nominee’s chances,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “If anything, it may be hurting Adler.”

Adler has denied being behind the candidacy of Peter DeStefano. “I believe in my heart, my people have nothing to do with other candidates,” Adler said recently.

But a New Jersey paper earlier this month reported in detail how staffers for Adler recruited the third-party candidate.

Asked how sure he was that DeStefano was a prop for Democrats, Runyan said “all the fingers are pointing there…Ultimately, I think it reflects more on John Adler and the way he’s running his campaign… he’s trying to deceive voters to try gain an edge.”

Runyan explained further: “As soon as it came out that [DeStefano] was a Tea Party candidate, every Tea Party organization in the district had never even heard of the guy. So there’s definitely something to it. He won’t even talk to any reporters or anything. He’s dodged everyone since day one, and hasn’t made any public appearances.”

“You’d think if you were running for Congress, you’d take all the free media you could get and he’s not doing it…He’s basically just been kind of hiding out.”

DeStefano told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the allegations are “a bunch of crap.”

Runyan, a first time candidate now spending 14 to 16 hours campaigning everyday, said there was “a huge learning curve” for him at first as he took to books to bone up on issues.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot since I’ve run because you have to be able to sit down and have a discussion and kind of really have a stance on most issues,” he said.

Runyan said he’s campaigning with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and RNC chair Michael Steele Thursday.