PARSIPPANY – Paul DeGroot wanted to make two points.
He is not a RINO, that dreaded term reserved for Republicans deemed insufficiently conservative.
And … Mikie Sherrill is an extremist.
DeGroot, the Republican candidate in CD-11, forcefully put forth both those arguments in a 20-minute speech Tuesday evening at a wine and cheese party hosted by the Morris County Women’s Republican Club.
After picking up more of Essex County and shedding a few towns in Republican Sussex, the district has become more Democratic voter registration wise.
DeGroot, who won the June primary despite not being endorsed by Morris County Republicans, is undaunted. He’s convinced he has a path to winning, or as Republicans say, reclaiming a seat GOP stalwart Rodney Frelinghuysen held for more than two decades prior to his retirement four years ago.
DeGroot recalled that during the primary, some of his opponents thought he was a RINO or a “squish” – another derogatory term for phony conservatives.
They were wrong, he said.
DeGroot expressed support for a number of genuine, conservative positions, including strong border control, a military second to none, oil independence and cutting “wasteful” federal spending.
“That’s an America Firster, that’s what I am,” he said.
This is, of course, a balancing act – and a difficult one at that. The bottom line is that it’s hard for Republicans to win in New Jersey without residing at least a wee bit in the middle. But go too far to the middle, you risk losing the enthusiasm of your base.
At any rate, DeGroot also expressed views to counter Democratic claims that he’s too much of a right winger.
In contrast to some on the right who reflexively oppose all gun control measures, DeGroot, a one-time assistant prosecutor in Passaic County, said he backs “red flag” laws, which aim to take guns away – at least temporarily – from mentally unsound individuals.
He also wants to expand Medicare to cover hearing, vision and dental needs of seniors.
This is very much in line with Democratic philosophy. DeGroot explained that he considers this a common sense view, noting that seniors deserve respect. Moreover, his idea is to expand Medicare by reducing expenditures elsewhere, not by increasing spending.
The second part of DeGroot’s oratory was about the incumbent.
“She’s the extremist; she’s the one too far left,” he said.
One aspect of DeGroot’s campaign is going to be contrasting his professional background with Sherrill’s.
As a prosecutor, DeGroot said he took “guns off the streets” and responded to homicides in the middle of the night, at times comforting the family of the victim.
He ridiculed Sherrill’s time with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, because she concentrated on criminal justice reform. DeGroot said if he had that job, he would have wanted to go after terrorists and the Russian mob.
This line of attack gets attention, but looking at it objectively, it may prove unproductive. Sherrill’s primary job prior to running for Congress was serving for almost 10 years in the Navy. That’s a bit harder to criticize.
The Republican also accused Sherrill of ducking debates.
“Mikie Sherrill, debate me,” he said. “Stand on that stage with me three times.”
InsiderNJ.com has offered to host a debate between the candidates, as have other outlets. We will see what develops.