CD5 Flashpoint: One Should Not Put Too Much Faith in Internal Polls

Congressman Josh Gottheimer voiced his support of Governor Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s lawsuit against the IRS and US Treasury Department following the the gutted State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction.

Two years ago, the most-watched Congressional race in New Jersey was District 5 where then-incumbent Scott Garrett was trying to keep his seat in the face of sharp criticism from those on the left and even in the center.

Garrett failed to do that, losing a close race to Democrat Josh Gottheimer. 

This year, Gottheimer, whose centrist positions have dismayed some on the left, seeks reelection against Republican John McCann, a Bergen County attorney.

The district is an odd one, even by gerrymandering standards. It covers the entire northern swath of the state and includes such locales as tony Ridgewood and very rural, at least by New Jersey standards, parts of Sussex and Warren counties.

The Cook Political Report rates this race as likely Democratic, which may be why it has not gotten the attention among politicos as, say, the races in Districts 7 and 11 where Republicans are trying to keep seats they have held for years.

But an internal McCann poll suggests this race may be more exciting than people think.

Done by TelOpinion Research, the poll has McCann with a slight lead, but his advantage is within the margin of error.

Here are some of the poll findings verbatim:

“This survey data suggests that (McCann is) in a very competitive race. (The) district is a classic swing district and it is very clear (McCann’s) opponent has not persuaded the voters of the 5th District that he deserves reelection.”

The pollster said it is surprising Gottheimer is not doing better, adding that the race has the potential to develop very positively for McCann as his name identification rises.

One should never put much faith in internal polls.

Still, Gottheimer won two years ago by defeating Garrett, a man who was seen as far too conservative, especially on social issues, for New Jersey. Recall that Garrett’s defining moment in that regard was his apparent opposition to financially supporting fellow GOP candidates if they were gay.

McCann is not Garrett. And over the next two months or so, we will see what, if anything, that means.

Gottheimer, meanwhile, feels very good about his centrist views on many issues.

“You got people on both sides who are part of the ‘all or nothing’ crew,” he said in a conversation earlier this month at a coffee shop in his hometown of Wyckoff. “I just don’t think that’s the job.”

In Washington, Gottheimer co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus, a 48-member group that seeks ways to break the partisan gridlock. The caucus has 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats.

Gottheimer’s moderate views have won him support this cycle from organizations that usually swing to the GOP, like the chamber of commerce and the state PBA. 

Gottheimer is a critic of the recently-passed federal tax bill.

“It’s very clear that we got hosed,” he says, “Jersey got screwed.”

Opposition to what is the most significant domestic achievement of the Trump administration may seem like a very partisan thing to do.

Not so.

Four of five Republican House members from the state also opposed the tax bill, primarily because by capping the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000 it can, in effect, increase taxes for many state residents.

New Jersey getting “hosed,” not just by the Trump tax bill, but in general, is a big Gottheimer issue.

He often complains about the “moocher states.” These are states that get back more federal money than they pay in taxes to Washington.

This is also a bipartisan issue. In fact, Republican Senate candidate Bob Hugin has been using it against Sen. Bob Menendez in some of his television ads.

It is also an issue that is more complicated than a 30-second TV spot. Recall that part of this phenomena is attributed to the fact income levels are high in New Jersey. So, of course, New Jersey residents are going to pay more in taxes on average than those in just about every other state.

Gottheimer doesn’t necessarily dispute that, but says that reality doesn’t mean New jersey can’t “claw” more money back from Washington. He said he has a staffer whose job is to do precisely that. Along those lines, he said that he and Republican Rep. Leonard Lance, of District 7, are co-sponsors of a bill that would require states like New Jersey, which pay more in taxes than they get back from Washington, to get preference on federal contracts.

He calls it the “anti-moocher” bill, although that – obviously – is not its official name.

Bipartisanship certainly has its benefits, but when Election Day rolls around, voters are going to see the names “Republican,” and “Democratic” on the ballot.

So, Gottheimer knows that, incumbency or not, nothing is a sure thing.

“I’m the first Democrat to represent this district since 1933,” he said. “I don’t forget that for a minute.”

In response to McCann’s poll, Gottheimer spokesman Andrew Edelson said, “”While that clearly partisan poll seems unscientific and rosy in its conclusion, Josh has never taken anything for granted. That’s how he became the first Democrat to win the seat since 1933 and why we’re confident Republicans, Democrats and Independents will come together this November to send Josh back to Congress.” 

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