POLLUTING THE GARDEN STATE
Frank Lautenberg v. Pete Dawkins, U.S. Senate,
New Jersey, 1988
I'm running against a Swamp Dog.
New Jersey has seen its share of tough political races. This 1988 U.S. Senate race set a state record for spending in a political campaign and is remembered as one of the dirtiest on record. According to Newsweek, there was so much mud flying between the two candidates that New Jersey voters "practically had to wear hip boots to get to the polls."1
Challenger Pete Dawkins called the incumbent, Senator Frank Lautenberg, a "swamp dog." Lautenberg called Dawkins a "carpetbagger," accusing him of polling in several other states before running in New Jersey. Dawkins was not a New Jersey native, but he denied the charges. Television ads by Lautenberg, such as the one urging Dawkins to "be real," drove Dawkins's negatives up to 35 percent by the end of the campaign.
It was not supposed to be that way. Pete Dawkins was a "dream" candidate for the Republicans in 1988. He was running against a vulnerable incumbent in Lautenberg, who was finishing his first term with public approval ratings in the forties. Lautenberg had been elected in 1982 by the smallest of margins over Republican Millicent Fenwick, even though he had outspent her $6 million to $2 million.
Dawkins looked like a "hot" political property, as the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee made the New Jersey Senate race their number