Dale Glading has an odd message as a congressional candidate.
"There is nothing special about me," he told me as he was commuting to his job as a prison minister, which he continues to do full time as he campaigns to unseat Democrat Rob Andrews, who is seeking his 12th term representing New Jersey's 1st Congressional District. "I want it to be that way. I want God to get the glory."
Glading founded The Saints Prison Ministry in 1987 and serves as its executive director. The ministry sends out softball, basketball, volleyball, and soccer teams to play inmates and share the gospel with them. The ministry is headquartered in New Jersey but works with 350 prisons in 25 states and Canada. Glading said most prisoners won't come to conventional religious services, but they'll come watch their buddies play in a game. At halftime or between doubleheaders, the Saints players share from God's Word and hand out the Gospel of John in English and Spanish.
"[The inmates] are the real deal-they're hurting, they're transparent, they're open," Glading said. "Those guys in the mine in Chile-they needed someone to rescue them. You drop down something, they're going to grab on."
The games are simply a "calling card" for the rest of the Saints' work. The ministry keeps in touch with individual inmates by sending them birthday cards. Inmates can join a Bible correspondence course and receive discipleship. And once they get out of prison, the ministry offers a transitional program to help them avoid recidivism.
Glading said he isn't discontent with his work in prison ministry, but he felt called to run for the congressional seat because other conservatives weren't running. In 2002 and 2006, Andrews, who is pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage, didn't have a Republican challenger. "People every day are watching Goliath in the valley mocking their God. I feel like Mr. Andrews has mocked my God for 20 years," Glading said.
Andrews has been in Congress almost as long as Glading has been a prison minister. The congressman has made fiscal responsibility a cornerstone of his campaign this year-he supports entitlement reform and cutting defense spending through contracting reforms. But his party-line record includes support for healthcare reform and the stimulus.
Glading ran against Andrews in 2008 and lost by a mile, like most Republicans before him. But the liberal editorial board at The Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed Glading in that election because Andrews broke his promise not to seek reelection while he sought fellow Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat. When Andrews lost the Senate primary, his wife was on the ballot for his House seat. He replaced her on the ballot and won. This year the Inquirer passed over Glading and endorsed Andrews, noting that he turned down a job with Goldman Sachs to stay in public office, while also mentioning his "past deception" and "sleazy move."
Buoyed by the national Republican wave, Glading's numbers are better this year-but he's down by about 35 points according to a September poll, with about 15 percent undecided. Glading said his internal numbers show the race to be more competitive, and without the money to dominate the airwaves, he and his campaign workers have knocked on 20,000 doors. Along with the backing of Tea Party groups and the state's Republican Gov. Chris Christie, Glading has worked for over 20 years with minorities in the inner city, not the average Republican constituency.
"If I get to win in November, I get to serve God in Washington," Glading said. "If I lose . . . I get to serve God in prison."