PolitickerNJ.com’s Top Ten Contests of the Last Five Years: 1

Pascrell v. Rothman: 2012 CD 9 Democratic Primary The Set Up It’s the number one contest of the last five

Pascrell v. Rothman: 2012 CD 9 Democratic Primary

The Set Up

It’s the number one contest of the last five years because both men held the same title: Congressman, both men were North Jersey brand names who appeared to carry equal weight, both men wanted to win knowing in the end that one career would be finished, and each man lived in a different county, making the showdown as much behemothic Bergen against the seemingly overmatched Passaic as Rothman v. Pascrell. It started in shocking fashion as Republican redistricting pushed Pascrell and Rothman into each other’s path. Rothman had to move to remain within the borders of a district he’d occupied for 16 years. A denizen of his hometown of Paterson, Pascrell objected to that, while looking like a coming victim of demographics in a city that was now majority Latino and African American. As he zoomed across the river and into Bergen County, the old veteran trailed peals of laughter at his plight – and grudging respect that he would try to stay alive against odds favoring the suburban-bound Rothman.  

The Showdown

At the head of a ragtag retinue who appeared ready to die for him, Pascrell proved the better campaigner. It’s probably unfair and less than civilized to point it out, but he always just looked like a guy ready to wade into a barroom brawl and start swinging. The Rothman campaign, by contrast, came across as a schizophrenic amalgam of an exceedingly nice fellow in person – and ravenous Mr. Hyde in messaging. Debunked for the most part by the media, Rothman’s attacks simply reminded Democrats of their uncomfortable condition in having to choose between two party champions. Following a Bergen debate between the contestants, an anti-war activist and self-described progressive complained to PolitickerNJ.com about Rothman’s salvos. It was a telling remark and confirmation of negative campaign fatigue beyond an establishment echo chamber that mostly hyped Pascrell. From the start, the former mayor of Paterson emphasized that his enemy was the Tea Party, not his same-party rival – and stuck to that message throughout.

The Outcome

It had most observers thinking that Pascrell should call it a career in the face of a new district that looked more like Rothman’s old one than Pascrell’s. Few at the start could have believed polls showing it a pick ‘em race prior to Election Day. Then Pascrell destroyed Rothman, winning 61-39% by the end of the night, in one of the all-time beat-downs. It was a stunning ending, one that put an exclamation point on every small victory Pascrell appeared to rack along the way – winning county committee support out of South Bergen County, forcing Rothman to answer to Pants on Fire advertising, landing the on the ground endorsement of former President Bill Clinton, staring down Rothman’s absentee ballot challenge in court, and most importantly, registering thousands of new voters – but that looked at the time like isolated gimmicks in the face of certain Bergen dominance. A street-trained and tested pol with iconic N.J. tendencies, Pascrell at age 75 ran the most robust, exciting and ultimately rewarding race of his lifelong career. In the words of one insider, “He pulled the sword out of the stone in the sunset of life.”   PolitickerNJ.com’s Top Ten Contests of the Last Five Years: 1