Stender looks at 2008

Assemblywoman Linda Stender, who came within 3,239 votes winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, is leaning toward a rematch with Republican Michael Ferguson. New Jersey hasn’t seen many close races for Congress in recent years, and a new map approved in 2001 heavily favored incumbents for the next decade. In 2000, Democrat Rush Holt won a second term by just 612 votes over Richard Zimmer, who held the seat from 1990 until running for the U.S. Senate in 1996. Over the last three-quarters of a century, only three others came within 1,000 votes of representing New Jersey in the House: Norman Roth, Lindsay Rudd and Gene Boyle. The closest House race this century was in 1956, when Roth, a Jersey City Republican taking advantage of President Dwight Eisenhower carrying Hudson County, lost to three-term Democratic Congressman Alfred Sieminski by a razor-thin 57 votes, a 44.97%-44.92% margin. That same year, another Democratic Congressman from Hudson County, James Tummulty, lost his seat, 52%-46%, to Republican Vincent Dellay. Dellay, a state Treasury Department employee who died in 1999, served just one term; in an effort to win a second term in 1958, he switched to the Democratic Party, but didn’t receive organization support for the nomination. He ran again in 1960, this time as an independent, and then returned to his job in Trenton. Two years later, Sieminski lost the Democratic primary to Cornelius Gallagher, who easily defeated Roth in what turned out to be a big Democratic year. In 1936, four-term GOP Congressman Fred Hartley, who became nationally prominent as the co-sponsor of the Taft-Hartley Act, survived a challenge from Democrat Rudd by just 665 votes — 50.2%-49.6%. Hartley survived another close race in 1946 from a young Newark attorney and World War II veteran named Peter Rodino; he retired in 1948 and Rodino began a congressional career that lasted forty years. Boyle, a 48-year-old former Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioner who owned a popular restaurant in Clifton, came within 960 votes of winning a 1969 Special Election for Congress in the 8th district (the incumbent, Democrat Charles Joelson, resigned to become a Superior Court Judge). The winner was Democrat Robert Roe, the state Commissioner of Conservation and Economic Development in the cabinet of Governor Richard Hughes, who had served as a Passaic County Freeholder and as Mayor of Wayne. The Democrat had been the heavy favorite and Boyle’s near-win was much a result of GOP gubernatorial candidate William Cahill’s coattails. Roe went on to serve 23 years in Congress without every having another tough race and chaired the powerful House Transportation and Public Works Committee. Boyle, who ran for office only once, died in 1991 at the age of 70. Some other close races: Democrat James Howard, an elementary school principal, rode the coattails of President Lyndon Johnson to win a House seat by 1,740 votes in the 1964 Democratic landslide, beating Monmouth County Freeholder Marcus Daly, the GOP candidate for the seat of retiring eleven-term Congressman James Auchincloss; Republican Bill Cahill, a former one-term Assemblyman (and future one-term Governor), survived the Democratic tide of 1958 to secure an 1,829 vote win for the open House seat of a longtime GOP Congressman who had retired. Cahill’s Democratic opponent was Cherry Hill attorney Alexander Feinberg, who was later implicated as Harrison Williams’ bag man in the Abscam scandal; Republican William Martini, a Passaic County Freeholder (whose nomination as a U.S. Federal Court Judge is now pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee), who unseated freshman Democratic Congressman Herbert Klein by 1,833 votes in 1994; Howard’s 1980 re-election victory over then-Assemblywoman (now Monmouth County Surrogate) Marie Muhler by 2,085 votes; and Thomas McGrath, a Deputy Attorney General under Governor Hughes, who beat a five-term Republican incumbent, Milton Glenn, by 2,267 votes in 1964. Henry Helstoski, a Democrat who served in the House from 1965 to 1977, had several close races before finally losing his seat in 1976. He was the Mayor of East Rutherford when he unseated longtime incumbent Frank Osmers in 1964 by 2,428 votes; he survived a rematch with Osmers by 2,564 votes in 1966, and edged out GOP Assembly Speaker Peter Moraites by 2,564 votes in 1968.

Stender looks at 2008