Can the owner of a NJ gym turn his notoriety into a win in Tuesday’s congressional primary?

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PT Barnum once said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”

Ian Smith, the co-owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, tests this saying.

Smith, running in Tuesday’s Republican primary for the right to face Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd Dist., this fall, gained national acclaim for defying Gov. Phil Murphy’s orders to temporarily shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19[feminine].

Then he was in Washington during the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising by Donald Trump supporters, though he said he didn’t break through the building. And in March, he was arrested and charged with drunk driving.

Meanwhile, the campaign continues.

On paper, Bob Healey, co-founder of a New Gretna-based yacht company and former punk rocker, seems to have the upper hand.

Healey’s fundraising and willingness to open her own checkbook by loaning her campaign $260,000 was noticed in Washington. The Republican National Committee of Congress added him to its list of potentially competitive GOP challengers, and the Bake the political report said a strong Republican wave could see Kim step down in favor of a well-funded GOP challenger.

But Smith has been in the public eye, and that could make a difference, according to Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of Rutgers University’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

“The outward personality or different personality of candidates is not something new, but obviously this is a particularly new era where the outward personality type is hugely favored,” Koning said. “Saying sensational things or doing sensational acts no longer necessarily leads to bad press. It can be seen as positive for him with his base if his defiance and actions are viewed as positive things rather than deterring voters from voting for him.

Through May 18, Healey had raised $896,796 on top of that loan and had $437,420 in the bank. Smith raised $154,110 and had a balance of $73,132. Nicholas Ferrara, a realtor and attorney, brought in just $2,410, lent himself $67,200, and had $1,792 left.

The Republican candidates’ bank accounts pale in comparison to Kim’s. The incumbent has grossed $4.4 million through May 18 with $3.9 million to spend. And he remained a firm favorite in a neighborhood that grew friendlier to him after the redistricting.

Kim faces her own main challenge from Reuven Hendler, a project manager at an engineering firm and small business owner, who did not say he raised any money.

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Jonathan D. Salant can be attached to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @JDSalant.

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