Franks Reaches Out To Voters The Longtime Congressman From Union County Terms His Work On Weekends "Retail Campaigning."

Posted: July 09, 2000

Sweat dripped from U.S. Rep. Robert D. Franks' forehead in tiny beads. His long-sleeve cotton blue shirt was soaked with perspiration. Yet, he kept working the long line of bystanders with the efficiency of an assembly-line worker.

"Hi, I'm Bob Franks. I'm running for the United States Senate," went the pitch, over and over again, at the Fourth of July parade in Washington Township. Franks grabbed the many hands extended to him along the 1.4-mile route on Egg Harbor Road.

With his smile and energy level intact, it was hard to tell that the parade was Franks' sixth event that day, with one more to go. Earlier, he had marched in a two-mile parade with Gov. Whitman in Ridgewood in the northern end of the state that attracted nearly 15,000 people.

"I love this kind of retail campaigning," Franks said, his feet pounding the hot pavement to meet the next throng of people. "It allows me to introduce myself to voters."

For Franks, 48, who is running in the race of his life for the U.S. Senate against former Goldman Sachs & Co. cochairman Jon S. Corzine - a much better financed and now better known Democratic opponent - money and time are clearly in short supply.

Unlike Corzine, the four-term congressman from Union County also has the disadvantage of a limited campaign schedule since his day job keeps him in Washington during the week.

He has raised $120,000 for the general election, has $180,000 in general contributions left over from the primary, and about $55,000 in outstanding debt remaining, according to a June 30 Federal Election Commission report.

"Fund-raising is picking up," Franks said, whose goal is to raise $10 million to get his message across. "But it takes a constant effort."

Franks will hold a fund-raising event on July 27 with Arizona Sen. John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, and intends to focus on fund-raising again at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia from July 31 to Aug. 3.

Corzine, 53, who spent close to $35 million to win the Democratic primary, hit four Fourth of July events. He walked a parade in Paramus, attended the celebration in his hometown of Summit, went to Wall Township for the Monmouth-Ocean AFL-CIO labor picnic, and caught the Maplewood festivities.

His campaign spokesman, Tom Shay, said Corzine has been out meeting voters since the primary. Last week, he held a fund-raiser with President Clinton.

"You can expect to see him on the campaign trail every day soon," Shay said. "Statewide races in New Jersey are always competitive, and Jon is going to treat it as such."

Congress does not recess until August, which means Franks will be on a packed schedule - Washington during the week and stumping on weekends - all through this month and part of August.

"It's simply one of the dilemmas of trying to run statewide while you're serving in Congress," Franks said on a recent Saturday at a carnival in Randolph. "For as long as I can remember, it's forced people to make a decision to either miss some votes, or miss some very important engagements at home. You have to strike an appropriate balance."

There was also fear, Franks said, that any missed votes from now until the November election would become a campaign issue against him.

Franks described the week before Independence Day weekend as being one of the worst on Capitol Hill.

"It was votes close to 2 a.m. virtually every day - midnight to 2 - and breakfast meetings," he said. "It was tough."

But Franks also takes every opportunity to use his day job to his advantage.

"Washington is not always a liability," Franks said, pointing to what he and his colleagues secured for New Jersey during those marathon sessions.

"This week I was able to bring home $30 million worth of flood relief for people who lived in towns that were impacted by Hurricane Floyd, like Lodi, Paterson, Manville and Bound Brook," he said. "I think they'll appreciate the fact that Bob Franks was able to take their concerns to Washington and bring home tangible assistance from the federal government."

Last week, Franks appeared with Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert G. Torricelli in Manville, Somerset County, to announce the flood-relief package.

Franks said he had no illusions of trying to outspend Corzine, only to outwork him.

After the June 6 primary, Corzine went on vacation from June 16 to June 21 to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean. Shay said the vacation was cut short from 10 days to five so Corzine could get back to work.

Franks began stumping immediately. The last time he took time off was last March for a week to go to Tryon, N.C., to spend time with his mother, June, after the death of his father, Norman.

Ingrid Reed, director of the Eagleton New Jersey Project - an effort to urge candidates to engage in meaningful debates and campaigns - at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, said Franks was relying on what has worked well for him throughout his career.

"The New Jersey primary was a good indication that retail campaigning works not just because it's one-on-one with the voter, but because it also energizes the committed people, the organizers who know other people who will get out the vote and help raise money," Reed said. "Now he [Franks] also needs to have all those people who are committed and believe he is an underdog to work for him."

She said that even Corzine, who relied on an unprecedented 12-week television advertising blitz just to make his name known, contributed large amounts to county Democratic organizations to galvanize the troops. Even after spending a record amount of money in the primary, mostly his own, Corzine still is worth an estimated $400 million.

"You can't overlook one voter, one person," Franks said at the Clifton City picnic on Saturday, July 1. Franks threw balls at a dunking machine, hitting the target with the second ball to the crowd's delight.

At a carnival in Warren on June 24, Franks participated in a bean-bag toss and won a small stuffed animal.

The weekend stops have become a Franks family affair, with his wife, Fran, 37, 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Kelly, and a stroller in tow.

"It's the only time we get to spend time with him," said Fran Franks, a lawyer with the state Board of Public Utilities. "When he's in Washington, we don't see him. He leaves Monday morning and comes home Friday night. Everything is all communication by phone during the week."

Fran Franks said she gets Kelly on the phone to say "good night" to her father on weeknights. When they're on the campaign trail on weekends, they pack extra food, diapers and clothes in the white Dodge van - known as the "Franks Mobile" by his campaign staff - decorated with "Bob Franks" placards.

"When he's in Congress, he's always running [for reelection]," she said. "Now it's more challenging because he has a 2 1/2-year-old. We have to constantly work at trying to integrate everything."

To stay in shape, Franks starts his mornings off with a 2.5-mile run at least three times a week.

The regimen paid off on the Fourth of July. Franks was able to take catnaps in the van en route to events to look refreshed for the crowds.

After the Washington Township parade, Franks quickly boarded his van for one more stop. This time at the Cherry Hill West High School football field where people were laying out blankets to watch fireworks.

At 9 p.m, in a fresh shirt, he arrived and spotted a grassy knoll lined with potential voters.

"Hi, folks, I'm Congressman Bob Franks, and I'm running for the United States Senate," he said to Rocky Lomaistro, 69, a registered Democrat from Cherry Hill. In the dark, Lomaistro grabbed Franks' hand and smiled.

"We will reach the top of this mountain, but it is going to be a continuing struggle to get there. I suspect somehow, as it was in the primary, this will come down to a very close and competitive race," he said. "I don't want to have to look back and say, 'If I just would have shaken that one more hand.' "

Franks would go up and down the hill several more times to make sure he didn't miss anyone.

Suzette Parmley's e-mail address is sparmley@phillynews.com

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