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Right Tackle. Right Wing. Right Choice?

October 13, 2010

Jon Runyan was a beast of a football player, is an imposing figure, and is surprisingly refreshing as a politician.

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a “Meet the Candidate” event in Barnegat Township, NJ hosted by the Ocean County Tea Party Group. Runyan, the Republican candidate for the NJ 3rd Congressional District seat, was the featured guest.

As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I am well aware of Jon’s abilities on the field. As a political junkie, I am well aware of his campaign. What I wasn’t aware of was just how legitimate he is as a candidate.

There are a host of former athletes who have become politicians, with varying degrees of success – Bill Bradley, Steve Largent, Jim Bunning, Jack Kemp, Heath Shuler, and many more. The move from the playing field to a seat of power isn’t new territory.

What surprised me about Runyan was how engaged he was in the topics of the day and how he didn’t rely on his Eagles pedigree to sway the audience.

Towards the end of the event, Runyan opened up the meeting to any and all questions. He answered every single question. I don’t mean he responded and gave some drivel politico-speak, he actually answered the question. Except once. One attendee asked him a question regarding the Chinese financial market and how it affects U.S. interests. Runyan listened to the question, didn’t try to dance around it, and responded very straightforwardly that he wasn’t informed enough to answer the question, but asked the gentleman to enlighten him after the meeting. He was applauded for his honesty. as you may recall, honesty has been a major issue in the run for the 3rd District seat, as the Democrat incumbent John Adler has been accused of planting a fake Tea Party candidate to siphon off votes from Runyan.

Is Runyan a perfect candidate? No. While honest and folksy, he’s also obviously unsteady as a public speaker and lacks some political polish. On issues he’s very familiar with his answers were quick and straightforward, on issues he was obviously less comfortable with he was awkward and slow. I blame his staff for that. Like any new candidate, Runyan can only be himself, which is why he needs people on his staff who are making sure he looks his best. Not toadies. Not insiders. Not the establishment. Just people who will go over how he presents himself, not put words in his mouth. It’s an important distinction – and one the voters will figure out real fast if they see a change. Be polished, be yourself, be honest. I assure you, on the floor of the House, meeting with dignitaries, and on State trips abroad, he’s going to want that polish. John Q. Public can be had, but the big players will very quickly size up his formidable frame and decided whether he’s worth their interest based on how he carries himself and what he knows.

With regard to his issues platform, it’s typical of a Republican candidate for office: fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, cut spending, creating jobs, military & veterans benefits, immigration, and naturally he gets an “A” rating from the NRA. No real surprises there. I tend to think the issues a candidate claims to run on really aren’t the measure of the person. It’s how that person handles temptation, adversity, and the need to compromise. While Runyan may not share your political views, he does seem to come across as a guy who’s interested in his constituency and takes the time to learn what he doesn’t know. I think that says something about his prospects.

[P.S.: this blog post should be in no way seen as support for one candidate over another. I do not reside in the 3rd District and I am not a member of any political party. I was simply interested to see if Runyan had some gravitas.]

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