As election day approaches, Republican congressmen in New Jersey look likely to withstand the nationwide down-ballot bloodbath Democrats are hoping for when Donald Trump goes up against Hillary Clinton [link]. Though the caucus has been weakened by Governor Chris Christie’s dive in the polls and divided by their controversial presidential nominee, experts are saying only Scott Garrett of the 5th district has anything to fear.
That may not have been the case if another congressional race in Central Jersey had seen the fundraising bonanza that put Democrat Josh Gottheimer neck-and-neck with Garrett. Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer said Peter Jacob, a Bernie Sanders Democrat who is challenging Leonard Lance in the 7th district, could still stand to have better odds if resources from the DCCC and state Democratic leaders devote more resources to the race.
Gottheimer has risen to a 44-46 percent lead against Garrett according to a DCCC poll, while Jacob’s campaign has languished.
Schaffer predicted that Republican-leaning unaffiliated voters put off by Trump will stay home in droves in the district, which is home to many registered Democrats but dependably elects Republican candidates. According to FEC records, Jacob has just over $25,000 cash on hand to Lance’s $366,000 and Gottheimer’s $2,505,372 (Gottheimer has received roughly $5,000 from Democratic party committees, while Jacob has received none.)
“I don’t think they’re paying any attention to it at all. I think they should be, given what’s happening in the national climate,” she said of the state party. “The world has gone completely bonkers, and I think that everybody has a real good opportunity, including Peter, to change the face of the congress.”
“He has a lot of support and a lot of money, and Peter has very little of either,” she continued. “Usually the person who runs against Leonard Lance is doing it to take one for the team, and I think this has the potential to be different.”
Jacob will, however, be getting the blessing of the state’s most popular politician[link]—Schaffer said U.S. Senator Cory Booker had agreed to speak at a campaign event during the election’s final weeks.
Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said the die has already been cast for Jacob, predicting that Lance will keep his seat by a comfortable margin. He said that while Trump supporters will be showing up on election day no matter what their candidate’s chances, Garrett will struggle if moderates stay home.
“The main thing that Garrett has to worry about is turnout,” he said. “You have a lot of moderate Republicans in the Bergen portion of that district, some of whom are not happy with their presidential candidate and don’t have any strong local party organization that will get them out to vote in local races.”
The Trump connection, combined with blowback from his alleged anti-gay comments about fellow Republican congressmen, could also be a handicap.
“The anti-gay comments put him in the same camp as Trump where he disparages certain groups, including groups within his own party,” Murray said. “That’s why the attack is much more potent this year, because of what happened in the context of Trump doing very similar things.”
As for Jacob, this year may turn out to be a jumping-off point. Montclair University political scientist Brigid Harrison pointed to the high bar any newcomer faces when running against an incumbent in the state. The odds of any new blood winning an occupied seat, she said, hover at less than 10 percent.
“There are freeholder races that raise more than that,” she said of Jacob’s fundraising totals. “But having said that, I think that he is making a name for himself even though his prospects don’t look great in this election.
“To unseat an incumbent you need to spend millions of dollars,” she continued. “That’s the only way, particularly with out expensive media market, to unseat an incumbent.
“That’s what will happen in the 5th and even then, the outcome isn’t certain.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.