CD 9 conflagration: Both sides energized heading into Election Day

No one in either camp acts as though he knows what will happen Tuesday, just that it will happen and

No one in either camp acts as though he knows what will happen Tuesday, just that it will happen and that at the end of it, one of two men will be in pain and trying not to show it in a roomful of people who fought hard but unsuccessfully to re-elect him.

Even before they knew which map Redistricting Commissioner Dean John Farmer would select, on the day before his public announcement, the allies of U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) feared Farmer would pick the Republican version, which would chop their boss’s home district almost in half and lump Rothman in the lap of Tea Party darling U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5).

The Rothman partisan on the other end of a phone line was in a state of shock.

How could it be that Rothman, the only member of the New Jersey delegation to endorse President Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Primary, would end up on the chopping block?

Behind the scenes, the congressman’s allies began to talk seriously about the prospect of relocating Rothman from Fair Lawn back to his old hometown of Englewood to maintain a grip on that bigger portion of the district he stood to lose if Farmer went with the Republican version of the map.

A day later, Farmer surprised few in the political establishment when he picked the GOP map, which would eliminate one congressional seat and even out New Jersey’s congressional delegation at six seats for the Democrats and six for the Republicans.

Rothman was the expected casualty.

But it didn’t take long for him to follow through on the whispers of his allies and announce that he would indeed move out of the new 5th District and into the new 9th, which concentrated some of his strongest towns and which now included portions of Passaic County, including Paterson, Clifton and Passaic.

His decision forced him into a Democratic Primary with U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, (D-8), who immediately denounced his rearranged rival for refusing to stare down the Tea Party and instead pick a fight with a fellow Democrat. In YouTube and television salvos, Rothman proceeded to fire back with the charge that he, and not Pascrell, has the more progressive voting record on marriage equality, a woman’s right to choose and what he said was his more staunch advocacy for the public healthcare option.

That juxtaposition characterized the contest from the start: Pascrell repeatedly makes the case that Rothman cannot fight for voters in the new 9th District if he cannot stand toe-to-toe with the Tea Party; Rothman underscores Pascrell’s less liberal record on social issues.

Tuesday is decision day.

Team Pascrell organized rallies down the stretch, including a Friday afternoon gymnasium jam with former President Bill Clinton and a Latino power projection in downtown Paterson a day later. A radio ad cut by Clinton runs continuously in English and Spanish. Pascrell maintains a grueling schedule of retail politics throughout the district.

Rothman relies on a network television ad buy as he keeps a wall-to-wall events schedule of his own.

Both sides hail the diversity of the district, and aggressively make their way from African American churches to Ukrainian meeting halls to Turkish restaurants to the Indians’ opening day of cricket season to the firehouses in South Bergen crammed with Irish and Italians to Fort Lee and the state’s largest concentration of Korean Americans.

Critical voting groups dominate the attention of insiders watching developing get-out-the-vote operations.

The Pascrell camp leans heavily on the political leadership of Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, (D-35), who this weekend attended church with Pascrell at Calvary Baptist; and community leader Elsa Mantilla, a South Ward Dominican business owner. Blacks and Dominicans compose the two biggest dedicated blocs of voters in Pascrell’s hometown of Paterson and will be key for the congressman to register the large vote totals he wants to offset Rothman’s natural Democratic Party voter registration advantage in Bergen County.

Sources say the Pascrell Campaign ideally wants to muster anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000 votes in Paterson, a town with 50,648 registered voters but with notoriously low voter participation. Such a showing by the congressman, a native son of the Silk City, would eclipse voter turnout in May municipal elections, when 13,486 people participated. In the 2008 Presidential Primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton, the entire county posted turnout just north of 20,000.

The Pascrell Campaign says it registered 10,000 new voters in time for Tuesday’s election.

Sources say Pascrell will need that massive showing coupled with a competitive showing in South Bergen to neutralize Rothman, who has the organization line in Bergen and Hudson County totaling 60 percent of the Democratic Party portion of the new 9th District.

Rothman is campaigning for Paterson votes, especially in the Dominican community. 

Already ugly, now it’s gone gruesome.

Sunday, Paterson voter Ann De Castro signed an affidavit alleging that on May 18 two unidentified people arrived at her house, advised her to oppose Pascrell, then took her absentee ballot and promised to personally take it to the Board of Elections Office after learning that De Castro voted for Pascrell.

De Castro said she later learned that the Board of Elections did not receive her ballot and applied to receive a new one.

Pascrell’s troops are heartened by endorsements from the Star-Ledger and, in particular, the Bergen Record, paper of record in Rothman’s home county, which celebrated Pascrell’s toughness and bashed Rothman for running a negative campaign encumbered by distortions of Pascrell’s record, particularly on healthcare. In their best case scenario, Rothman’s supporters will stay home on Election Day and the mighty Bergen County will sag in the face of a better urban get out the vote operation manned by Pascrell.

A May 20 tracking poll by the Rothman Campaign showed Rothman ahead of Pascrell by four points within the margin of error. They conducted that tracker prior to a final campaign messaging effort.

To close the cycle through Election Day, Rothman allies are relying on a large-scale television ad buy to dampen Pascrell.  The ad, which highlights Pascrell’s view that the Army Corps of Engineers, and not polluters alone, should help with the cleanup of the Passaic River, puts an exclamation point on their narrative throughout that Pascrell is not progressive enough for the Democratic-dominant district.

“I don’t care about the river, we want jobs,” a Patersonian told at Saturday’s rally in front of the old post office. “Go around here and ask how many people care about the river.”

But at least one source from within Pascrell’s base complains that Clinton’s presence cannot offset a local downbeat political mood in Paterson.

“It definitely raised the profile of the election,” said the source. “But, again, politics is inside the bubble. (Around the corner from) the 5th ward Democratic Committee office… there are nightly drug raids, annual murders, and a general sense of nihilism that is heartbreaking. You won’t be able to walk into that office without getting a fresh whiff of weed smoke.  The office blends in with the landscape.”

Despite goodwill for Rothman in Fort Lee late Sunday, the local IBEW Hall in Paramus appeared less than vibrant for its candidate a day before the election early Monday evening. Rothman Campaign Spokesman Adam Silverstein said Rothman never intended the scheduled labor walk as anything other than a targeted drive into Cliffside Park. But the hall gave off a creaky feeling underfoot with hours to go before the election.

The Arab community in Paterson’s South Ward is behind Pascrell. Sources close to his campaign fear that fact will help stir Rothman’s voter base in Bergen’s Jewish community.

In the closing hours of the campaign, sources could not emphasize enough the likelihood of the Jewish vote turning out heavily in support of New Jersey’s only Jewish Congressman, Rothman.

“No one’s talking about it outright, but it’s there,” said a source close to the campaigns. CD 9 conflagration: Both sides energized heading into Election Day