The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has identified New Jersey’s 11th congressional district as a primary target ahead of the 2018 midterm election, a notable shift for the once deep-red district that has been represented in the House by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11) since 1995.
Democratic candidate Mikie Sherrill—a former federal prosecutor and Navy veteran—was identified by the DCCC as part of the “Red to Blue” program, an initiative by the campaign committee to flip Republican districts nationwide. Sherrill is one of only 18 Democrats to so far have been identified for the program, something that indicates that the DCCC is poised to allocate significant funds to the district at a time when national Democrats hope to reclaim control in the House.
“A Navy veteran and former federal prosecutor, Mikie Sherrill has spent her life serving our country,” said DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan in a statement. “As a Navy helicopter pilot, Mikie flew missions throughout the Middle East, and in the U.S. Attorney’s office she both prosecuted violent and white-collar criminals and developed programs to help prevent crime in the community. Mikie gets the job done and it’s clear why she’s been able to build one of the strongest, grassroots-driven campaigns in the nation.”
While a number of other Democrats have lined up to challenge the long-serving Frelinghuysen, Sherrill managed to consolidate support early and has earned the endorsement of the state Democratic Party and the Democratic party chairs in the counties that make up the district.
“Every day, I speak to residents of the 11th district who are ready for change. Earning the Red to Blue status from the Democratic Party is an honor,” Sherrill said. “It’s a recognition of the grassroots movement we are building in New Jersey to bring responsible and accountable government back to Washington.”
Frelinghuysen, chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, was considered a safe seat up until 2013 redistricting brought parts of liberal Essex County—Sherrill’s home base—into the district. In November, one year before Sherrill and Frelinghuysen’s likely general election matchup, the Cook Political Report shifted the district to a “toss up.”
A number of factors have contributed to Frelinhuysen’s ratings shift.
Since President Donald Trump was elected, Frelinghuysen has failed to hold in-person town hall events, something that has mobilized the activist group NJ 11th for Change to hold regular protests and candidate forums—all with the intention of educating voters to make a choice other than Frelinghuysen.
In May, news broke that Frelinghuysen sent a letter to the employer of an NJ 11th for Change member, calling her a “ringleader” in the group. For the letter, Frelinghuysen was hit with an ethics complaint.
But Sherrill—or the other Democratic candidates in the race—will still have to face a significant fundraising disadvantage as they hope to topple Frelinghuysen. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Sherrill had raised about $744,000 as of October 2017. During the same time period, Frelinghuysen raised over $1.1 million.
Frelinghuysen’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.