Running against Runyan, she said, is not personal: "He's just an opponent with a voting record."
Runyan, 38, casts that record as embracing the fiscal discipline needed to repair the economy. In his first term in office, he twice voted for the Republican spending plan proposed by Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman and now the GOP vice presidential nominee. Runyan has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and wants a government that cuts spending and regulations, and holds down taxes.
"Number one, it's jobs. When you look at it across the board, whether it's taxes, whether it's health care, whether it's regulation and the uncertainty that's out there ... that's the biggest problem," Runyan said.
Adler, 53, said Runyan's votes have favored the wealthy at the expense of seniors and middle-class families, arguing that the Ryan budget would cut needed programs while reducing taxes for those at the top of the income ladder.
Runyan "has a record now that he needs to be accountable for," Adler said. "The record is not one that represents the interests of the people of the Third District."
The race has been targeted by both national parties, and has attracted heavy spending by conservative groups hoping Republicans can hold on to the House.
Runyan would repeal Obama's health-care overhaul, but keep some popular provisions. "That patient-doctor relationship is seriously in jeopardy," he said.
Adler said the law needs fixing, not repeal. "We don't want to go back to a system where the insurance companies are in control," she said.
Runyan would leave taxes at current levels; Adler would let them rise on incomes of $1 million and up to help balance the federal budget.
The two have also engaged in the same back-and-forth on Medicare seen in races across the nation. Adler said the GOP plan Runyan supported would not only cost senior citizens in the long run by overhauling the popular health care program, but would "end the Medicare guarantee."
Runyan argued that the plan, which would give seniors a fixed amount to purchase health coverage, would help a program whose costs are rapidly growing.
"In 2024, Medicare starts to fall apart if nothing is done to it, and here is our plan," Runyan said, noting that it affects only those younger than 55. "Let's put the reforms in place now and have the discussion with the younger generations that are able to adjust their retirement, to help us sustain these programs."
He added, "This is part of the problem in Washington. No one's willing to go out and have these uncomfortable discussions with Americans."
The candidates' messages have been amplified by big campaign spending - $1.4 million by Runyan and $864,000 by Adler, as of the latest federal filings. No two House rivals in New Jersey have combined to spend as much this fall, and only one other district has seen more spending by outside groups.
An array of conservative organizations, including the National Rifle Association and American Action Network, have spent on Runyan's behalf - $414,000 worth, according to the latest federal data. That amount includes only part of the Congressional Leadership Fund's pledged $650,000 spend on attacking Adler for her work as a Cherry Hill councilwoman. The fund's television ad says Adler voted to raise Cherry Hill property taxes three times.
Adler points to a rebuttal by the liberal Bridge Project group, which wrote that one of the tax hikes was the lowest in Camden County that year, and that the town's mayor blamed state-level decisions for the increases.
"I was extraordinarily judicious with respect to Cherry Hill taxes, because I paid them," Adler said.
Runyan's financial backing has come largely from military contractors, prominent in the district, as well as fellow Republicans and doctors, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money.
The biggest chunk of the challenger's financing comes from an unusual source: executives at the Royal Caribbean cruise line. Adler explained that the company is headed by an old law school friend who held a fund-raiser for her. She has also received backing from lawyers' groups and prominent Democrats, including South Jersey political power George E. Norcross III and his wife. Norcross is a managing partner of the company that owns The Inquirer.
One outside group, New Jersey for the People, has spent about $6,100 on Adler's behalf.
The district had been a GOP stronghold for more than a century before John Adler won in 2008 with the help of Obama's national surge.
Runyan, a Mount Laurel resident who grew up in Flint, Mich., and went to the University of Michigan, took back the district for Republicans two years later as the tea party wave swept through races nationwide - and now he has a more favorable electorate, thanks to redistricting.
The new map cuts out Cherry Hill, Adler's home base. While the district is only slightly more Republican than before, Adler has a less direct connection to the Democratic bastions she will need to carry to win.
"Runyan's likely to win just because the redistricting dynamics have made it very hard for Shelley Adler to overcome that," said Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray.
Adler, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, attended Harvard Law School, where she met John Adler. She worked for 11 years as a lawyer in Philadelphia. She has lived in Cherry Hill since 1985.
A Richard Stockton College poll released in early October showed Runyan with a 49-39 lead among likely voters.
The gap is "substantial but not insurmountable," said Daniel J. Douglas, director of Stockton's William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy.
To Adler, the recent infusion of outside spending against her is a frustrating reality of campaigning - but also a sign, she said, that she is in striking distance.
"Who spends $650,000 in one bite against somebody they don't think is a threat?" Adler said.
Even so, national Democrats have canceled ad buys in the Philadelphia market - an ominous sign for their candidates in the area.
Assessing the race, Runyan fell back on a football philosophy: "People say you're winning the game on paper, but it's not over until you go out and win that game on game day."
Game day is Tuesday.
Contact Jonathan Tamari at Tamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari. Read his blog "CapitolInq" at www.philly.com/CapitolInq.