1966 was a bad year for national Democrats, and quality candidates (and more competitive districts) meant more House seats in pl

Forty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson’s unpopularity at the time of the mid-term elections led to the loss of three U.S. Senate seats, 47 House seats, eight governorships and 557 state legislative seats by the Democrats. In New Jersey, where congressional districts were redrawn for the 1966 general election after the U.S. Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote decision, voters re-elected Republican U.S. Senator Clifford Case (he defeated fomer Middlesex County Prosecutor Warren Wilentz by a 60%-37% margin), and the GOP picked up two House seats. One of the new seats came in a newly-created South Jersey seat, drawn at the expense of freshman Democratic Congressman Paul Krebs of Essex County. Republican John Hunt, a State Senator and former Gloucester County Sheriff, defeated Camden City Solicitor Michael Piarulli by a 51%-46% margin. Hunt spent eight years in Congress before losing in the 1974 Watergate year to James Florio, then an Assemblyman from Camden County. Piarulli, now in his 80’s, lives in Cherry Hill. Krebs went on to serve as Director of Consumer Affairs under Governor Richard Hughes; he lost a U.S. Senate race to Case in 1972 and a Democratic primary for Congress in 1974 (for the seat ultimately won by Millicent Fenwick.) The other victory came in the second district, where former State Senate President Charles Sandman of Cape May County, who had left the Legislature in 1965 to seek the Republican nomination for Governor, unseated freshman Democratic Congressman Thomas McGrath, who ousted a Republican incumbent two years earlier on LBJ’s coattails. (McGrath stayed in Washington, serving in the Johnson Administration as General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.) Sandman also lost in 1974, a year after he defeated incumbent Governor William Cahill in the GOP primary and lost the general election to Brendan Byrne by over 700,000 votes. Sandman’s seat was held by Democrat William Hughes for twenty years; after Hughes retired in 1994, the seat was won by Republican Frank LoBiondo. New Jersey Republicans lost two seats they had believed they would win: in the third district, where Democrat James Howard unexpectedly won an open seat two years earlier in a Republican district, an in the ninth district, where Democrat Henry Helstoski had narrowly beaten a GOP incumbent in a Democratic landslide year. Howard, whose strong campaign skills enabled him to hold the seat until his death in 1988 against some very strong opponents, defeated Assemblyman James Coleman by seven percentage points, 53%-46%. (Coleman went on to serve many years as a Superior Court Judge in Monmouth County.) Helstoski held his seat in a rematch with former nine-term Congressman Frank Osmers by a 51%-49% margin. Helstoski held that seat until ethics problems led to his defeat in 1976. (For extreme political junkies: after Congress, Helstoski served as North Bergen Superintendent of Schools and Osmers was the Bergen County Administrator.) In 2006, only one congressional district seems to be in play: the seventh district, where Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Stender is battling three-term Republican Congressman Michael Ferguson. Considering the current political environment, there are some pundits who opine that New Jersey Democrats may capitulated too early in other districts: some insiders wonder how Assemblyman Jefferson Van Drew might have done against LoBiondo, or if Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Adler, who has considerable fundraising skills and even greater political ambition, would have fared against eleven-term GOP Congressman Jim Saxton. In the fifth district, Rotarian-American Paul Stuart Aronsohn, a former aide to Governor James E. McGreevey, has fallen way short of his own fundraising goals in his race against two-term Republican Scott Garrett. Might another candidate, like State Senator Joseph Coniglio, have given Garrett a stronger challenge? Or could former gubernatorial candidate Michael Murphy, who now lives in the fourth district, have had a chance against twelve-term Republican Conrgessman Christopher Smith, a perpetually anemic fundraiser who has not gotten along well with the GOP leadership in recent years? Both parties did a better job of recruiting quality challengers in 1966 than they did this year: District 4: Democrat Frank Thompson won a seventh term by a 56%-43% margin over Ralph Chandler, a 32-year-old Political Science Professor at Princeton University who had served as the State Assembly Parliamentarian when the Republicans controlled the Legislature in 1964. District 5: Republican Peter Frelinghuysen won an eighth term with 71% of the vote over Carter Jefferson, 39, a Professor of History at Rutgers University. District 6: Republican Bill Cahill was re-elected to a fifth term by a 2-1 margin over Walter Dubrow. Cahill left the House after winning election as Governor in 1969. District 7: Republican William Widnall received 66% of the vote to win a ninth term over Democrat Robert Hamer, a 36-year-old State Assemblyman from Bergen County. District 8: Democrat Charles Joelson won a fourth term with 60% of the vote in a race with Richard DeMarco, a 28-year-old Clifton resident who had served as National DIrector of Government Affairs of the U.S. Jaycees. District 10: Democrat Peter Rodino, who would later serve as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate and spent forty years in Congress, won 64% of the vote against Republican Earl Harris, the first African-American to win a seat on the Essex County Board of Freeholders. Harris went on to serve many years on the Newark City Council and switched back to the GOP in 1986 when he was eleced Essex County Surrogate. District 11: Democrat Joseph Minish was re-elected to a third term against Leonard Felzenberg, a 33-year-old GOP lawyer and the cousin of historian Alvin Felzenberg, with 58% of the vote. District 12: Republican Florence Dwyer won 74% of the vote to win her eighth term over Democrat Robert Allen, 37, a former U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare official in the Johnson Administration. District 13: Democrat Cornelius Gallagher won a fifth term with 72% of the vote against Ruth Swayze, a 40-year-old social worker and Republican County Committeewoman. District 14: Democrat Dominick Daniels also won a fifth term; he received 68% of the vote in his race against Jersey City Republican Municipal Chairman Thomas McSherry. District 15: Democrat Edward Patten was re-elected to a third term by a 57%-42% margin over Republican John Stroumtsos, a 45-year-old World War II veteran and Harvard Law School graduate who later served as a Superior Court Judge in Middlesex County.

1966 was a bad year for national Democrats, and quality candidates (and more competitive districts) meant more House seats in pl