OAKLAND – Frank Pallotta still has faith in Donald Trump.
On one hand, this is no big deal. Pallotta is the Republican candidate for Congress in the Fifth District, a competitive region running across northern New Jersey from the Hudson to the Delaware. And Trump is a Republican president.
Yet, on the other hand, the last two weeks have not been kind to the president. There was his widely-scorned debate performance, his somewhat zany behavior after he and many of his close associates contracted COVID-19 – think of the “joyride”and removing his mask upon return to the White House – and just yesterday, an apparent flip-flop on a pandemic relief package.
His poll numbers are sagging. Rasmussen, a poll often favorable to Trump and Republicans, now shows the president’s approval rating upside down by 10 points. This is mirrored in many election polls that show the president continuing to trail Joe Biden nationally and struggling to hold such normally GOP states as Georgia and Texas.
Pallotta, who is challenging Democrat Josh Gottheimer, held a small “baseball playoff watch party” Tuesday night at a sports bar in this Bergen County town. He said the evening was not designed for heavy political discourse, but just to chat with people.
“This is about getting out and meeting people,” Pallotta said, noting that there are 72 towns in the district.
Still, as his guests munched on pizza and burgers washed down with beer and wine, I asked him if Trump at the top of the ticket helps him or hurts him.
“I think he helps me and that’s my opinion,” he said.
Pallotta knows that Trump just barely carried the district four years ago, but he says things are different now. Trump, he says, has delivered.
He said he thinks district voters realize that prior to the pandemic, the economy was humming and that unemployment was down across the board.
Pallotta praises Trump’s tariffs, saying they put China on notice and have resulted in trade deals more favorable to the United States. He also says Trump’s stance has curbed some of North Korea’s more sinister intentions.
This is a very rosy view of the Trump administration, and one that likely goes over well in the Sussex and Warren county parts of the district.
The big battleground, however, is Bergen, which has become very Democratic in recent years.
How the Trump record flies in Ridgewood and Paramus is the more relevant question. And that can make, or break, Pallotta’s candidacy.