New Jersey’s most lively primary contest will come to an end Tuesday when progressive newcomer and Bernie Sanders supporter Alex Law goes up against congressman Donald Norcross in the first district. With Norcross bracketed alongside Hillary Clinton, Law’s spirited and massively outspent grassroots campaign will be put to the test.
Law has mounted a frank and thoroughgoing campaign against not only Norcross, but the culture of pay-to-play tax breaks that dominates South Jersey politics. A hard-won debate between the 25 year-old former IBM consultant and the incumbent first-term congressman was unceremoniously cancelled less than 24 hours before it was scheduled to happen.
The anticlimax was a fitting coda to a primary battle staked on two diametrically opposed approaches. Norcross’ anodyne public appearances, costly attack ads and mailers, and his clutch of left-handed establishment endorsements (President Barack Obama, the NJEA, the NJ Sierra Club and the HRC among them) have had to contend with a young candidate willing to make his campaign’s inside game public.
The Law campaign has documented every tremor of the primary process on social media. Documents detailing a lawsuit against the Camden County Clerk’s office over its esoteric bracketing procedures, an alleged internal memo from the Norcross campaign, and Law’s announcement that he had reached the minimum age to serve in congress all went straight to supporters through the candidate’s Facebook page.
Although that approach has stirred up support from suburban progressives and moved the Norcross campaign to attack a candidate it might have otherwise ignored, Law miscalculated this week when he aired his grievances with the Gloucester NAACP’s Loretta Winters Wednesday morning.
In a Facebook post the day of the scheduled debate, Law accused Winters of intentionally booking a small-scale venue for the debate and keeping press access to a minimum. Winters and Law have both acknowledged that their working relationship in the weeks-ling run-up to the debate was contentious, with Winters insisting that the candidates speak seated at a table rather than standing at podiums and attempting to disallow any video or audio recording of the event.
After she agreed to allow media access and a live video stream from NJ Pen on Wednesday morning, Law posted a link along with a rebuke to Winters. The Gloucester Democrat, a personal friend of Norcross, had declined to move the venue or offer tickets to the public.
“Despite my best efforts (I had arranged a venue with up to 2,000 seats), Loretta Winters of the Gloucester County NAACP insisted on a tiny venue with no tickets available to the public. If you want to see the debate, this stream is the only way to do it!,” he wrote.
Winters withdrew as a host of the event in response, after which the Jewish Community Relations Council of South Jersey and the Islamic Center of South Jersey also fled. Norcross issued a statement saying that he was “disappointed” with the outcome.
Norcross has raised $1.5 million and has $215,000 in indpendent PAC spending on his side, against Law’s $70,000. Though Law scored an endorsement from the Philadelphia Inquirer this week, his chances of putting a dent in Norcross’ totals look slim. But the candidate has brought a breath of fresh air to South Jersey, and shown firsthand (for better or worse) why challenges to the Democratic coalition surrounding Norcross’ brother George Norcross are so few and far between.