Insurance Issues Loom Large In N.J. House Race

MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. (AP) -

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 airtime next month.

The race to replace Jon Runyan, a Republican 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 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. He 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 represented policyholders.

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