The two presidential candidates—Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump—have laid out starkly different tax policies to be enacted if elected. While Trump’s tax plan has been criticized for benefiting the wealthy by providing tax cuts based on income and prioritizing business, Clinton’s plan calls on income-based tax revenue generation that would cause wealthy individuals to “pay their fare share.” Many have criticized Clinton’s plan as unfairly targeting the wealthy and broadly raising taxes in already difficult financial times.
In New Jersey, Republicans and Democrats running down-ballot have latched on to the tax plans of their party’s presidential candidates as a point of differentiation between themselves and their competition. Congressional district five, which spans across northern New Jersey, is considered the most competitive congressional race in the state. Because of the “toss up” nature of the district, incumbent Republican Scott Garrett has regularly used Clinton’s tax plan as a way to claim that he has the interests of taxpayers in mind more than challenger Democrat Josh Gottheimer.
Trump’s plan fits in with Garrett’s small government ethos, making Gottheimer’s Clinton allegiance an obvious target for the fifth district incumbent. Since the beginning of the campaign, Garrett’s ads have regularly tied Gottheimer to Clinton and claimed that the Democrat would raise taxes in congressional district five if elected as the new congressman on November 8.
Because much of NJ-5 consists of wealthy Bergen County suburbs where residents rake in some of the highest incomes in the state, appeals to taxpayer’s pockets could prove to be effective for Garrett. Currently, New Jersey pays some of the highest federal taxes in the nation and gives more money to the federal government than it receives back. Garrett says those taxes shouldn’t be given to Washington in the first place. Gottheimer says that, instead of leaving money on the table in the form of federal grants that go unsought, a priority should be placed on more return on investment rather than an overall reduction of taxes.
Ties to presidential candidates and their tax policies have also been seen in the less-competitive congressional district seven where incumbent Republican Leonard Lance is facing Democratic newcomer Peter Jacob.
In NJ-7, Lance is also presenting himself as a taxpayer watchdog while painting Jacob as a supporter of Clinton’s plan to increase taxes. At a congressional debate last week, Jacob defended his support of Clinton’s tax plan by claiming that it would not negatively impact 90 percent of residents in the district. However, like parts of NJ-5, portions of NJ-7 in areas like Morris, Essex and Hunterdon Counties are some of the wealthiest in the state.
In both districts five and seven, the appeal to taxpayers works especially well. Because New Jersey pays some of the highest taxes in the nation, many voters are already tax-weary. Those voters who fear more of their income going to taxes are eager to see any potential tax cuts and are potentially more open to arguments from the likes of Lance of Garrett that new leadership in their district will mean less in the pockets of voters.
The arguments in New Jersey’s fifth congressional district are consistent with similar arguments being heard around the country as Republicans push back against Clinton’s tax plan. Throughout this election season, the Republican National Campaign Committee has used ads to target candidates throughout the nation for records on taxes and other economic policies that they claim will hurt the middle class. It appears that the strategy in New Jersey is no different.
These appeals work less well in other congressional districts where taxpayers will likely not see much fluctuation from either tax plan.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, publisher of Observer Media.