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MONTVILLE – Mikie Sherrill beat Jay Webber by 47,000 votes last year, a substantial margin that not too long ago would have been unthinkable in the suburban 11th District. That’s the immediate challenge for whoever runs against Sherrill in 11 months. The task seems even harder when you factor in Donald Trump’s low statewide poll numbers and changing demographics in a district that cuts across parts of Essex, Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties. None of this scares Larry Casha, a lawyer from Kinnelon who is the first – and so far only – announced Republican challenger to Sherrill. Casha and I met Tuesday to talk about the race at his law office.
Casha sees an advantage of sorts right out of the starting gate. Sherrill was a “pedigree” in 2018, he says, but now she has a record. And to Casha, that means things she has done and things she has not done. For specifics, Casha talked about an issue that has been on Sherrill’s agenda since before she was elected – restoring the full income tax deduction for state and local taxes. It’s now capped at $10,000 under the tax reform bill of 2017.
“Mikie hasn’t done anything to really address that,” he said.
Casha’s point is that for all the talk on the issue coming from Sherrill and the Democrats, nothing has changed. At a Nov. 25 town hall in Whippany that Casha attended, Sherrill was optimistic about a bill coming to the House floor early next year. Of course, what the Senate does with it is another matter.
Casha argues that no matter what the Senate does, or even for that matter what the full House does, Sherrill should simply introduce a bill to restore the so-called SALT deduction.
“You put it in,” he said.
But unless a bill could at least pass the House, wouldn’t that be grandstanding?
No, said Casha. That would be doing your job, he said.
And then there’s impeachment, not the type of issue one can ignore.
Casha’s view here is somewhat nuanced, at least compared to the more polarizing opinions of the day.
He agrees that all presidents – all elected officials in fact – should be investigated when there is reason to do so. His main beef is with the way Democrats are doing it. Casha faults them for holding closed-door meetings and for limiting the Republicans’ ability to call witnesses and cross-examine those who testified. A total lack of due process is how he put it.
Casha says that as a former federal prosecutor, Sherrill should be troubled by this.
“I haven’t heard nothing out of her,” he said.
At the Republican convention two weeks ago that picked Aura Dunn for an open District 25 Assembly seat, I spotted Casha and Webber chatting with each other.
Casha said Webber has offered to help his campaign anyway he can, although he declined to talk about specifics.
The men have a history. More than a decade ago, Webber beat Casha in the Republican primary for the District 26 Assembly seat Webber still holds.
The men also differ philosophically; Webber is more ideologically conservative. For example, in last year’s campaign against Sherrill, Webber defended the SALT cap, arguing that on balance, the Trump tax cut package benefited district residents.
This time around, a moderate-stance should help Republicans. Think of the old line about elections being won “between the 40-yard-lines.” You need the middle.
On that score, Casha says he thinks local Republicans are coming to the center. While that remains to be seen, Casha offers an example, saying that marriage equality and gay rights in general are now accepted by many of the GOP’s rank and file in New Jersey.
Democrats have been methodically closing the registration gap in the district, which now favors Republicans by only 2,000. And who knows what it will be next November.
Numbers aside. Casha is optimistic that a “vast majority” of district residents have what he terms traditional Republican values.