New Jersey Democrats should try something novel and new every once in a while in choosing our candidates.
We should just hold an election and see who gets the most votes.
In more than 20 years of working on campaigns, I’ve seen my share of good candidates and not so good candidates. All seven of the Democratic candidates running in CD7 are pretty good candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, of course, but in a lot of years we’d be happy to have any one them represent the party on the ballot.
Over the course of two decades, I’ve worked with more than half the candidates who’ve tried to win the Seventh: Maryanne Connelly, Tim Carden, Steve Brozak, Linda Stender, Janice Kovach. I worked with them all. (I’m working with David Pringle in the Seventh District now.) We got close to winning twice in 20 years. The times we lost, was our own fault. Hurt feelings among Union County Democrats after a primary were enough to prevent Connelly from winning; Linda Stender lost (I only worked on the “good” Stender campaign in 2008) because of conflict between Washington and New Jersey Democrats.
This year, the process to this point has been unfair, unruly and ever changing. It makes no sense. It’s too early. And it’s not what Democratic voters want this year.
These are just a few of the process issues that have been problematic.
The chairman in Union County has resigned so it’s uncertain how endorsements will be made. In Somerset County, the party moved up its convention, then scrapped it and even after the fact, it’s unclear how they chose to endorse a candidate. In Hunterdon, the convention was moved up by more than two months — to Super Bowl Sunday (not the best choice of days if you want a large turnout) — then the party chair chose to endorse a candidate a week before the convention. And there is no such thing as a personal endorsement by a party chair.
All going on while there’s still more than two months for new candidates to enter the race ahead of the April 2 deadline. Theoretically, Barack Obama could decide he wants to run for the House of Representatives on April 1 could not get the party line in much of CD7.
I believe the party chairs across the Seventh District want to win. I believe they want the strongest candidate. They’re just going about the process like it was 2014.They’re failing to recognize this time is different. Since the election of Donald Trump, there’s been a groundswell of opposition and CD7 is a hotbed of it.
Congressman Leonard Lance is one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country. But the most likely path to reelection for him is for Democrats to continue down the ridiculous path of trying to choose a candidate in the backroom by a handful of party leaders instead of letting Democratic voters — and particularly all of the new activists and groups that have not been part of the party structure but who are appalled by Trump — hear from all the candidates and let them make the choice.
I’m not being a Pollyanna about this. I’ve been in those backrooms choosing candidates. At times, the backroom makes sense. This is not one of those times. And the arguments for the backroom don’t hold in a year like this. It’s doubtful any of the seven candidates running now will drop out of the race regardless of party endorsements, so “clearing the field” isn’t an argument. Yes, we’ll expend Democratic money in the primary, but money for a general election will rain on the district if it’s seen as necessary to retake the House of Representatives. And since no one is getting out of the race, it will be spent anyway.
The protesters outside of Lance’s office each Thursday are new. They’re not old party warhorses. They don’t care about the backroom and probably don’t like the idea of it. The women who toppled the Westfield Republican establishment are not part of the old party structure. There are so many new groups it’s hard to keep track of them all — Action Together Union County, Westfield 20/20, Cranford Rising, Summit Area Indivisible. A few weeks ago in Hunterdon County, 300 Democrats came out to hear the candidates on a Sunday afternoon. It was nine below zero, in Republican Hunterdon County and the place was filled to capacity. I’ve seen years where we couldn’t get that number of people out on the weekend before Election Day across the entire district. These folks are the difference between winning and losing in November.
Opponents of Trump and Lance are itching to vote, demanding to be heard. They want the chance to participate.
The activists and voters who are energized to oppose Trump accurately believe he and his Administration are fundamentally unfair — unfair to women, minorities, immigrants, those who are sick, those who want to attend college, taxpayers. The specific outrages from Trump are nearly endless, but center around fairness.
If we as Democrats go through a candidate selection process that makes these folks feel as if we’ve been unfair, we risk losing them and their enthusiasm and purposefulness.
So why not have an open primary in the Seventh Congressional District? No lines at all.
Let’s just hold an election and see who gets the most votes. That will guarantee we win in November.
Pat Politano is a Democratic political and media consultant based in Cranford. He is affiliated with CD7 candidate Dave Pringle.