Jon Runyan and the Tea Party 'Plant'

Jon Runyan, the former Philadelphia Eagles lineman who's running for Congress in Pennsylvania as one of the D.C. Republicans' top recruits, has found himself running against what appears to be a fake Tea Partier.

If 2010 is indeed a wave election year, Runyan stands a decent chance of taking down freshman Democrat John Adler in New Jersey's conservative-leaning 3rd Congressional District, which sent Republican Jim Saxton to Congress for 13 consecutive terms before Adler's win in 2008. One problem, however, has loomed: a third-party bid by Peter DeStefano, running on the "New Jersey Tea Party" ticket, who threatens to siphon a small percentage of the vote away from Runyan and possibly keep the seat in Democratic hands.

Last week, however, the Courier-Post's Jane Roh reported that DeStefano is a fake, planted by Democrats who conspired at a meeting in May to gather signatures to get him on the ballot.

And not just any Democrats were responsible, Roh reported: Geoff Mackler, Adler's campaign manager who had been dispatched by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, played a key role along with a local Democratic consultant, according to the Courier-Post story. Mackler has declined interview requests from that paper. DeStefano has indirectly denied that he was a plant.

Adler told the Gannett New Jersey editorial board last week that he "knew nothing about it and I know nothing about it...When I first read the stories about it, I made sure my people would have nothing to do with it going forward."

Runyan is now warning anyone he can find about DeStefano's fakeness and impugning Adler's integrity and credibility at every turn.

"I think it's obvious what [Adler is] trying to do--he's trying to cover up a lie that's been created," Runyan told reporters on a conference call today. "The reality [is] that his campaign manager has something to do with it."

Asked if he was worried about the possibility that the reported Democratic plan will succeed--and that DeStefano will indeed take votes away from him--Runyan said that's not his focus.

"You can't sit around and worry about it. You've got to plug ahead," Runyan said. "It's out there. I just want to make sure that everybody's educated about what's going on. This is a backhanded way to try to win an election, and I don't think people appreciate being lied to like that."

This comes after Runyan said he would ask for an apology from Adler, "but, frankly, an apology from someone like Congressman Adler would be so meaningless it's not worth seeking."

If New Jersey's 3rd District voters are buying the Courier-Post story, which rests on numerous interview with unnamed Democratic sources, and Runyan's charges, this development could damage Adler significantly on Election Day--becoming an advantage for Runyan even if DeStefano does pull a couple percentage points from his total.