BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) — At a meeting with a tea party group in Somerset County, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Alieta Eck spoke mostly of her ideas on the dangers of President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul and what she would like to do instead.
A woman in the audience told her there are other considerations, too.
"It's the biggest issue we're facing right now," Eck responded.
Eck, a physician who lives in Somerset County's Franklin Township, wants the federal government to offer protection from medical malpractice lawsuits in exchange for voluntarily treating uninsured patients for four hours a week. The idea is based on the church-based free clinic she and her husband, also a doctor, run in addition to their private practice.
She says the approach would reduce paperwork in the medical world, provide coverage for the poor, lower costs and help doctors avoid paying large medical malpractice insurance premiums.
With a small campaign budget and compressed time schedule ahead of the Aug. 13 primary, Eck is introducing herself to voters in small groups.
Among the six candidates seeking to fill the final 15 months of the Senate term previously held by the late Frank Lautenberg, she's the only one who has never held — or even campaigned for — office before. In the Republican primary, she's trying to contrast herself with Steve Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota who has run for governor and is a tea party favorite.
Polls have shown Eck far behind Lonegan in the primary and both far behind Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker in the October general election.
On Tuesday, Eck spoke to about two dozen people at a tea party meeting in Bridgewater, then drove off with her husband in their pickup truck to address a smaller crowd at a meeting of the Atlantic Highlands Republican Club.
In both speeches, Eck quoted Ronald Reagan and the Bible's Book of Isaiah, spoke of her love of the Constitution and liberty, and accused career politicians of wanting to control people's lives.
"You have to be very vigilant not to let socialism happen," she said. "It's power for the politician."
Eck, the 2012 president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, has twice testified before Senate committees about health insurance.
While her views are generally conservative — she opposes abortion rights and expresses her admiration for the Bill of Rights, specifically the right to keep and bear arms — she presents herself as more understanding of those in need than Lonegan, who is deeply critical of welfare programs.
She said she agrees with him about climate change, which scientists generally agree is real and made worse by human activities. Eck says it's an issue largely ginned up by politicians as an excuse to exercise more power.
And she says that while they agree on problems facing the nation, she's better able to offer solutions.
"I've lived the solutions," Eck told the audience in Bridgewater.
Eck decided to run days after Lautenberg's death on June 3 when a board member of her national physicians group suggested it.
While her campaign is low-budget — it had reported less than $30,000 in contributions by the end of June — Eck does have a professional campaign manager and a professional-looking campaign website designed by two of her daughters.
She said that if she can pull off a primary win, she expects general election help nationwide from others critical of the health insurance overhaul.
But the campaign isn't taking that for granted: The red yard signs she's handing out to supporters remind voters of the unusual date of the primary. If she wins, she'll need to order a second set of signs for the general election.
Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill