The Competitive New Jersey U.S. House of Representatives Races

As the likelihood of a Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives increases every day, the question is whether any Democratic incumbents in New Jersey will lose their seats to their Republican challengers. 


There are three seats in play: 1) the 3rd Congressional District, where Democratic one term incumbent John Adler faces a challenge from Republican Jon Runyan , a former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman; 2) the 6th Congressional District, where Democratic incumbent Frank Pallone is defending against a surprisingly effective campaign of Republican Highlands Borough Mayor Anna Little; and 3) the 12th Congressional District, where Democratic incumbent Rush Holt seeks reelection against Republican venture capitalist and financial services executive Scott Sipprelle. 


The major determining factor in each contest will be the ability of the Republican challenger to make the race a mandate on President Barack Obama and, even more so, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.  By contrast, the Democrats will attempt to make each of these three races a referendum on the constituent services of the incumbent in question.  The following is an analysis of each of these districts as we approach Labor Day weekend:


3rd Congressional District


Jon Runyan has a number of significant factors operating on his behalf.  The 3rd is traditionally a Republican district, having been represented in the House by a Republican for 123 years prior to John Adler’s 2008 victory.  Runyan will have two solid Republican county organizations in Ocean and Burlington Counties providing him with a strong ground game base. 


Runyan is also a former Philadelphia Eagle, which, believe it or not, is a huge factor in his district.  I lived in Cherry Hill for a number of years, and I can say without reservation that the Philadelphia Eagles are a religion in South Jersey.


Finally, it appears that Governor Chris Christie will devote a substantial amount of his time to campaigning for Jon Runyan.  This is a real asset for the Republican challenger.  Christie is very popular in both Burlington and Ocean Counties, and his assistance to the Runyan campaign is a definite positive.


The problem for Jon Runyan is that in his first election campaign in his life, he is running against one of the most highly politically skilled individuals I have met in my three decades in New Jersey politics.  John Adler is one formidable incumbent, despite the Republican nature of his district. 


Since he took office, Adler has run an excellent constituent services operation. By voting against ObamaCare, he displayed an independent streak that is very attractive to South Jersey voters and avoided a liability on the health care issue that will plague Democratic incumbents throughout the nation.


Adler also will have a huge financial edge over Runyan in this race, unless Runyan decides to devote a larger share of his wealth to the campaign.


The bottom line:  Adler will not go gently into the night.  Runyan can win, but he faces a very uphill battle.


6th Congressional District


Up until a week ago, I did not consider this district in play.  When I read about the National Research poll that gives Frank Pallone only a six point lead over Anna Little, 40 to 34, I changed my view of the race.  The principal of National Research, Adam Geller is a person of complete competence, professionalism, and integrity, and I take his poll results most seriously.


Anna Little by far has the most political and governmental experience of these three Republican challengers.  She has remarkable personal appeal, a powerful command of the issues, and a superb ability to attract grass roots volunteers.  In a year where anti-government sentiment is at an all-time high, Anna Little is the ultimate populist candidate.


Her main problem is a lack of money.  This does not discourage Little.  She overcame a huge financial advantage on the part of Diane Gooch to win the 2010 Republican primary.  If the race remains close during the last few weeks of the campaign, Anna may attract significant additional funds.


I am under no illusions.  This is a Democratic district, and Frank Pallone has a huge financial advantage.


The bottom line:  Anna Little has upset the odds before.  She is just about the only candidate I know who could overcome the financial and party affiliation disadvantages facing any challenger of Frank Pallone.


12th Congressional District


While this district is certainly Democratic, it is open to a Republican takeover this year, not only due to the growing unpopularity of Obama and Pelosi but also due to the ultra-liberal views of Rush Holt.  2010 is certainly not a great year in America for left-wing ideologues.  


Prime evidence of Holt’s ultra-liberal views is the fact that he is the darling of J Street in New Jersey.  J Street, as I wrote in a column in on June 22 is an ultra-liberal Jewish organization which claims to be pro-Israel but consistently attacks Israeli anti-terrorism efforts and defense policies and defends every effort of President Barack Obama to pressure Israel into making high risk concessions.


Since that column was published, on July 6, 2010, J Street issued a position statement that can best be described as McCarthyism of the Left.  Specifically, the organization called upon the United States Treasury Department and relevant Congressional bodies “to launch thorough investigations into whether or not the organizations funding settlement activities on the West Bank named in a July 5, 2010 New York Times article (‘Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank’) have broken the law”. 


Such an investigation could have a most chilling effect on the civil liberties of highly reputable and respectable American Jews who have funded philanthropic activities in settlements on the West Bank.  I have yet to see Rush Holt make a statement repudiating this J Street position.


Holt has a reputation of being a bright policy analyst.  Scott Sipprelle is at least Holt’s equal, however, in terms of intellect and intelligence.  Sipprelle’s position statements are highly analytical and reflect extensive study and thought.


The Holt campaign will doubtless utilize a “guilt by association” tactic of attacking Sipprelle’s Wall Street background.  Obviously, Scott Sipprelle had nothing to do with the financial market collapse of 2008.  Nevertheless, it will be a Democrat tactic nationwide to transform the words “Wall Street” into a profane expression.


Holt will certainly have a financial advantage.  It remains to be seen how large it will be.


The bottom line:  Yes, this is an uphill battle, but Sipprelle can win.  The race may well be determined by what is more repugnant to 12th District voters:  Obama/Pelosi or Wall Street?


General overview:  According to the Cook Report’s Partisan Voting Index, the three districts in question are classified as follows: 3rd– R+1; 6th – D+8; 12th – D+5.  It is not surprising that the most Republican of these three districts has the most formidable Democratic incumbent, John Adler, in terms of issue knowledge, political skills, and campaign fundraising. 


Republicans do face an uphill fight in all three districts.  All this may not matter, however.  If the public antipathy towards Obama/Pelosi continues to intensify, a nationwide Republican tsunami may sweep Runyan, Little, and Sipprelle to victory on Tuesday, November 2.


Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.  He also served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former Governor Christie Whitman. The Competitive New Jersey U.S. House of Representatives Races