Why N.J. Republicans Don't Want Ferguson's Seat in Congress

The biggest Republican names are begging off of an unexpected—and very winnable for the G.O.P.—Congressional race in New Jersey. Republican Michael Ferguson, a 37-year-old fourth termer, announced yesterday that he won’t seek re-election to his 7th District seat next year, and already former Congressman Bob Franks (who held the seat from 1992-2000), state Senator Tom Kean, Jr. (who ran for the seat against Ferguson in 2000 and for the U.S. Senate last year) and Assembly Minority Whip Jon Bramnick have all declined to run.

Why?

One guess is that the House seat may be fool’s gold for a Republican. New Jersey is all but assured of losing a House seat in the next round of redistricting, and the seat is likely to come from the G.O.P.’s hide. Under the current scheme — adopted in 2001 when Democratic and Republican leaders conspired to lock in all of the incumbents for a decade — Democrats hold a 7-6 edge among New Jersey’s 13 seats. Given the political realities of this decade, with Democrats dominating most every election, a strong case can be made that the party is under-represented at the congressional level. So when it comes time to eliminate a district in 2011, it’s long been assumed that two Republican districts in the northern part of the state — where the population is not growing like it is in the south — will be merged together. The most popular theory has Ferguson’s 7th District, which sweeps across north-central Jersey, combining with the 11th, a northwest district represented by Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen.

That makes the ’08 race in the 7th much less attractive to top Republicans, who would face the strong possibility of losing their district during their second term in the House. The same is not true for the likely Democratic candidate, Linda Stender. If she wins, Democrats can be expected to protect her in the 2011 redistricting, probably adding Democratic areas to what, for them, is a very shaky district. They would instead turn their attention to other possible Republican targets, or opt to lock in Stender and all the other incumbents with a map similar to the one drawn up in 2001.