(CNSNews.com) - The gubernatorial candidacy of New Jersey conservative Republican Bret Schundler continues to rankle the state's GOP establishment, which now finds itself allied with the New Jersey teachers union in trying to stop Schundler, who is a strong supporter of school vouchers.
Schundler, with virtually no support from the state party, but with strong backing from nationally well-known conservatives, gained eight points in the latest Quinnipiac College Poll that measured his challenge against Republican Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco, who recently has had to fend off allegations of improper financial dealings.
But the newest twist in the race involves the effort by the New Jersey Education Association to defeat Schundler.
"The 170,000 member NJEA has officially endorsed Donald DiFrancesco in the June Republican gubernatorial primary," states Dennis Testa, the current president of the Bergen County chapter and former state president of the NJEA. "We are not directing our members to become Republican, but to look at the issues and support Donald DiFrancesco against Bret Schundler."
According to Testa, the NJEA will support DiFrancesco, but just in the Republican primary, and based on the issue of private school vouchers.
"Don (DiFrancesco) has always taken favorable stances toward public education, and he is opposed to any plan involving school vouchers," Testa said.
Schundler, who has gained a national following as mayor of one of New Jersey's largest cities with a more than four-to-one Democrat to Republican ratio, is an active supporter of vouchers.
The Education Intelligence Agency, an education watchdog group, claims the NJEA has endorsed DiFrancesco in the GOP primary, "not out of any particular love for him, but because NJEA will do virtually anything to keep Schundler out of the governor's mansion."
According to EIA Director Mike Antonucci, "For the teacher's union, it's a win-win situation. DiFrancesco is a moderate bordering on liberal, and no threat to the [National Education Association]. The lone Democrat in the race (Woodbridge, N.J. Mayor Jim McGreevey) is an ally of the NEA. A Schundler victory would do great harm to the NEA."
While the NJEA confronts Schundler on the school voucher issue, DiFrancesco's campaign is attacking him for another reason, urging the state attorney general's office to investigate whether Schundler's nonprofit group skirted state laws.
In a letter to Attorney General John Farmer, Jr., DiFrancesco's campaign questioned whether donors to The New Jersey Scholarship Fund knew the nonprofit group would be running a $773,713 media blitz featuring Schundler.
The DiFrancesco campaign has repeatedly tried to make a campaign issue out of Schundler's nonprofit activities, even asking the IRS to look into the matter.
"Not only is everything completely compliant within the law, but donors were given a clear choice of investing in either scholarships or the media ads," responded Bill Guhl, spokesman for Schundler's gubernatorial campaign.
Guhl said the ads were not intended to be political, and were meant to raise money for more scholarships. "We would have to assume the attorney general would not waste time on something like this, but if he did decide to look, he would find everything is proper."
Guhl believes there is a hidden agenda in DiFrancesco's attacks. "I think what they are trying to do is deflect attention from the problems that Don has had." Guhl was referring to recent news reports that raised embarrassing questions about DiFrancesco's land dealings and the awarding of a state contract to someone who had given DiFrancesco a loan.
A spokesman for the New Jersey GOP, which is backing DiFrancesco against the
conservative Schundler, would not comment on the allegations against DiFrancesco, but did say, "The state attorney general and the IRS would not be looking into Schundler if there wasn't something wrong."
DiFrancesco's campaign also accuses the Schundler team of leaking stories about the land deals to the press.
"It's also becoming clear, the DiFrancesco camp and the state GOP are concerned about Bret's campaign," said Guhl.