U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett’s (R-05) campaign, up to this point, has portrayed the challenge by Democrat Dennis Shulman as more of the same – another hapless Democrat venturing into solidly Republican territory where voters are happy with an incumbent well respected for his steadfast conservative principles. But a three-page fundraising letter Garrett sent out earlier this month acknowledges that he will face a tougher race this time around.
“This election will not be like past elections,” wrote Garrett. “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has its eye on New Jersey… Last month they placed me on their target list, and just yesterday they upgraded my opponent to "Emerging Race" category. That means they will be pouring money and resources into spreading their leftist propaganda to as many voters in my district as they can between now and Election Day. And incredibly, the DCCC has more than seven times the bank account of our Republican counterpart!”
In the letter, Garrett set his fundraising goal at an additional $800,000 by Election Day to beat back what he characterized as a rising Democratic tide, pointing to Democrats’ three recent special election victories in traditionally Republican districts, as potential harbingers of an upset.
“Recent Republican special election losses in Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi – in districts that went heavily Republican in 2006 – mean that no election is guaranteed,” he wrote.
The letter comes as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) continues to evaluate the 5th Congressional District to see if it’s worth pouring significant resources into. In his three past campaigns, Garrett has consistently beaten Democrats by solid margins. Although Democrats are spending the bulk of their Garden State resources on the open seat campaigns of John Adler and Linda Stender in the 3rd and 7th Districts, respectively, the DCCC has begun to take an active role in the fifth, hoping that, with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, they could put the district in play.
This week, the DCCC announced that plan to begin airing radio ads in several districts nationwide—include the 5th—with an impersonator of President Bush thanking the local Republican incumbent for voting to give “billions in tax breaks to the big oil companies.”
Carrie James, a spokeswoman for the DCCC, said that the ad said that the organization bought $100,000 worth of air time for all 13 districts nationwide. Garrett’s district is the only one targeted with the ad in New Jersey, where it will air on WSUS-FM, WHCY-FM, and WABC-AM.
Garrett went on to tout his conservative credentials which sometimes put him at odds with the more moderate members of his own party, and hit Shulman as a far left liberal for his support for repealing the Defense of Marriage At, oil prices and his stance on the Iraq War.
“Shulman claims he is mainstream,” wrote Garrett. “But mainstream America has never wanted to fork over more dollars to the government Mainstream America has never wanted marriage – the foundational building block of all healthy societies – to come under fire. And mainstream America has certainly never raised the white flag of surrender to our enemies or agreed to be held hostage to such painfully high gas and oil prices.”
Shulman responded that the letter demonstrates that Garrett is taking his challenge seriously.
"This three page fundraising letter indicates two things — Scott Garrett is out of touch with the concerns of his constituents and is deeply worried about continuing his two decade career as a politician," he said. “As this letter proves yet again, that will be a choice between change and more of the same old politics that has left our economy in shambles and the special interests in charge of Washington, DC."
Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said the letter was a fairly typical appeal to Garrett’s fundraising base, trying to get them to make maximum $2,300 donations. Still, it demonstrated that he’s concerned about his reelection.
“If he was not being targeted, the tone probably wouldn’t be quite as harsh as it is here. There is recognition in this letter that they are facing a serious challenge here, or are concerned that they’re facing a serious challenge. Things might change when we hit October, but they don’t want to be caught short,” said Murray. “This is very common ‘our way of life is under attack’ kind of appeal. He’s not sending this to independent voters, but to the core supporters who have been involved with his campaign before.”
Garrett Campaign Manager Amanda Gasperino said as much
"Congressman Garrett is doing what he has done every year. He is fundraising so he can effectively communicate his message of lower taxes, affordability, and real solutions torising energy costs to the residents of the fifth district," she said. "This is nothing new or out of the ordinary."