College history professor/author Josh Zeitz has officially joined the race for Congress in the fourth district, and the 33-year-old Democrat is telling party leaders that he’ll raise $200,000 for his race against entrenched GOP Congressman Christopher Smith by June. Zeitz has a huge network of donors from his work as a political staffer, and his father, Carl Zeitz, is a well-liked former newspaper reporter, casino regulatory, and lobbyist.
Zeitz would become Smith’s fifteenth Democratic opponent in sixteen congressional campaigns; his first two were against Frank Thompson, Jr., the popular Chairman of the House Administration Committee who had been representing what was then a reliably Democratic district since 1954. Thompson clobbered the 25-year-old Smith in 1978, and lost to him two years later following his indictment in the ABSCAM scandal.
Smith held the seat in tough races against former Senate President Joseph Merlino in 1982, union leader James Hedden in 1984, Senate Democratic Executive Director Jeffrey Laurenti in 1986, and Betty Holland (whose late husband had been Mayor of Trenton) in 1988. He beat Mark Setaro in 1990, Brian Hughes (the son of a former Governor, now the Mercer County Executive) in 1992, Ralph Walsh in 1994, Kevin Meara (now a Republican Councilman in Hamilton Township) in 1996, Mike Schneider in 1998, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora in 2000, Mary Brennan (now a Judge) in 2002, Amy Vazquez in 2004, and Carol Gay in 2006.