POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

3rd District candidates battle for key demographic: Seniors

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Ruth Gage is 93 years old and in a wheelchair after a recent fall, but it hasn’t stopped her from working with like-minded seniors who formed a political club they claim is aimed at protecting their health care by opposing incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur’s re-election in the 3rd Congressional District. For this crowd, MacArthur’s votes in 2017 to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass the Trump tax cut bill felt like a betrayal.

“I just knew we had to get rid of this guy and hope we could come up with a viable candidate,” she said.

“It’s so good to be able to do things, instead of just stew about the things that are upsetting that are being done by the current administration,” Lumberton resident Jane Bodner said.

Bodner joined the group gathered Friday at the Community Center in Marlton, located in the district’s Democratic eastern half, to celebrate sending 65,000 hand-signed postcards to fellow voters urging them to support Democrat Andy Kim.

“Because of the stance he took on things that are most important to seniors,” Bodner said. “It was health care, it was Medicaid, Medicare. The twist on ‘we’ll do the tax cuts, then we’ll need to cut everything else,’ you don’t mind, right? Yes, we minded.”

“Their entire strategy is to create a deficit crisis of their own making, and then to turn around and use it as an excuse to slash Medicare and Medicaid,” said Topher Spiro, vice president of health policy at the Center for American Progress.

One recent study found more than 307,000 3rd District residents have pre-existing conditions. Seniors fear losing health care coverage, especially if Republicans follow through on promises to reduce the federal budget deficit by cutting Medicare and Medicaid. But Republican councilwoman Judy Noonan, who’s knocked on 800 doors canvassing for Tom MacArthur, calls that fearmongering by the Kim campaign.

“He was pandering to us, scaring us, because when I knock on doors I have to tell them, ‘It’s not true.’ And my seniors, we have a lot — 20,000 — and they do vote. And they did get misled, big time,” Noonan said.

Toms River is one of the more conservative strongholds in the 3rd District. Noonan says she supports Donald Trump, and says MacArthur will protect Medicare.

“The congressman has always been up front with us and protected us. I’ve dealt with him for many, many years,” she said.

More than 100 elected officials in this district recently signed a letter stating, “… Our Congressman has been a leader in trying to reduce out-of-control healthcare costs, which have been largely caused by the Affordable Care Act, which Mr. Kim supports.” And that MacArthur “… always votes to protect Medicare and Social Security.”

“We’re trying to strengthen Medicare by bringing costs down. We’re trying to strengthen the coverage for everyone else by bringing costs down. And I’ve been named a champion of Medicare by the Coalition for Medicare Services for a reason. I’m committed to making sure that health care for seniors is there,” MacArthur said.

MacArthur won re-election a couple years ago with 60 percent of the vote and tied his political fortunes firmly to Donald Trump. But seniors have put health care on the ballot this time, and polls call the race a tossup.