In my profile of New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, I noted that despite the fact that he's not really all that popular (only 39 percent of Garden State voters approve of his job performance, and 58 percent would prefer he be replaced by someone else), he looks set to cruise to re-election, at the age of 84, since the New Jersey Republican Party can't seem to find anyone to run against him.
Now things have gotten even worse for the GOP: Its one semi-credible candidate, real-estate developer Anne Estabrook, dropped out of the race earlier this month for health reasons. Desperate for a replacement, party leaders first flirted with former Major League pitcher Al Leiter (who lives in Florida and has never held public office), but after he declined to run, settled on former Goya Foods executive and nightclub owner Andrew Unanue. (A rival GOP campaign said it proved "the party's elitists have reached the letter 'U' in their Rolodex of fourth-string candidates.") Unanue's one apparent qualification is that he's rich enough to finance his own campaign. He can't even be bothered to appear in the state: He announced his candidacy from his family's vacation spot--Vail, Colorado--and decided not to come back to New Jersey to speak at county party conventions this week, as is customary for candidates for statewide office.
Unanue's business acumen is also coming into question. His trashy-sounding New York nightclub gets unanimous miserable reviews from New York magazine readers ("This place makes me SICK!!!!...This was the worst service I have ever experienced"; "I have never been to a bar where EVERYONE is rude, from the bouncers to the 'uppity' people who go here"; "This place got it all wrong, everything is just WRONG! Bad crowd, bad doormen, bad barstaff & bad decor.") And yesterday, the Newark Star-Ledger reported that soon after Unanue took over as chief operating officer of Goya, Unanue's relatives filed a lawsuit to remove him from his post with the family-owned company. They accused him of showing up to work drunk "at least five times," a charge he denies.
Unanue blames Lautenberg for feeding the story to the Star-Ledger, with his campaign manager writing an angry letter to the incumbent: "It is telling that after nearly 25 years in office, the best you have to offer the people of New Jersey is a tired, old gutter campaign replete with sleazy personal attacks. Frankly, the legal proceedings from Andy’s family business dispute are no more relevant or appropriate campaign fodder than your divorce proceedings."
Ah, Jersey politics at its finest.