Nutshells of all the Congressional Battleground Contests in New Jersey (RIGHT NOW!)

Nutshells of all the battleground contests in New Jersey (RIGHT NOW!)

Van Drew

CD2: Van Drew Country

It was probably over when Republicans anointed little known Hirsh Singh, divided up the field, and gave the primary election to movement conservative Seth Grossman, who promptly declared diversity “a bunch of crap.” Since that time – in his pursuit of the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2), Grossman has run a creatively eccentric campaign in which he does things like evoke the struggles of African Americans to explain his support for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, while managing to land a jab on an old familiar foe: white women. “Countless black men were lynched by mobs of whites who also ignored the evidence and truthful testimony of blacks, and instead automatically believed the accusations of women who were white,” observed Grossman in a Friday missive, a day before the Senate voted on President Donald J. Trump’s nominee. Enjoying the expansive climes afforded by a 23-point lead, according to last month’s Stockton University Poll, Van Drew – the most conservative Democratic caucus member in the state senate – didn’t support Kavanaugh.

The race has appeared sufficiently lopsided to cause at least one person to scratch his head in bewilderment at a Mike Aron panel event before the Clerk’s Association when veteran Politifax Editor Nick Acocella referred to CD2 as the “most likely” Dem pick up this season. Where was CD2? It took a minute. Oh, that’s right, that’ the race that Van Drew already won.

Then again, Stockton Polling just this past week took a shoulder hit from venerated Monmouth University Pollster Patrick Murray….

Grossman

CD3: MacArthur’s Thorny Path to Statewide Office

It seems like ages ago when Gov. Chris Christie told anyone who would listen that in U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3) lay the future of the Republican Party. That still might be true. But while MacArthur’s adherence to President Trump on key issues like Affordable Care Act repeal and the budget may play in his Ocean-Burlington district, it could hinder him if he tries to go live against Governor Phil Murphy in 2020, which for some time had looked like the game plan. Look, if the polling is accurate, MacArthur will have a tough enough time trying to fend-off little-known Andy Kim.

MacArthur

MacArthur’s confident of Ocean County turning up and giving him the win. That’s where Kim Guadagno defeated Murphy last year by over 30,000 votes. Then there’s that awful albatross that Burlington Democrats saddled the challenger with when the Burlington Times revealed that the party nominee for freeholder, George Youngkin, had a domestic arrest on his record, in addition to a harassment complaint. The aftermath revealed deep fault lines in the party organization, as several municipal chair took issue with the way Burlington County Joe Andl selected Youngkin.

Would it all boomerang on Kim in the county he absolutely needs fully operational, as Republicans gleefully piled on?

Prior to the mess with Youngkin, Democratic State Party Chairman John Currie jumped into the contest, citing an attack mailer against Kim as evidence of GOP racism.

But MacArthur claimed some traction this weekend as he demanded that Kim call on Andl to resign.

Kim

CD4: A Race to Represent Virginia

Democratic challenger Josh Welle spent last week trying to do damage control – and fork $1,000 in delinquent franchise tax fees in the face of a story about his past management of a Virginia-based company, which he ran as recently as 2016.

It might seem like a nothing story, particularly alongside Welle’s exemplary U.S. Navy service record. But incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4) has long left himself open to critics who point out that he spends little time in the 4th District. It’s a storyline that has hounded the Virginia-friendly Smith for years.

Now the Democrat who wants to unseat him has that freshly-arrived-in-the-district-after-years-away feel to him, trying to make the case for why voters need to give absentee landlord Smith the heave-ho.

It’s a tough case, one that vanquished Democratic Primary tavern owner and a seaside staple Jim Keady knew could dog Welle.

Smith

Trying to get traction, the challenger welcomed former Massachusetts Governor (and possible 2020 presidential candidate) Deval Patrick in to campaign with him this weekend, a big name that potentially has the backfire effect of infuriating New Jersey presidential hopeful U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).

On the upside for Welle, an impassioned Governor Phil Murphy two weeks ago at the podium at the Democratic State Committee’s convention announced his desire for Democrats to win not just one or two more – but “all” the house seats on Nov. 6th.

Welle

CD5: Got Heimer?

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Having knocked off movement conservative Scott Garrett in 2016, Gottheimer was supposed to dutifully hold the seat for two years, and then fall under the sword of a moderate Republican in 2018, one who agreed with the policies of President Jeb Bush. Of course, it didn’t happen. Donald Trump’s New Jersey antagonism on the Gateway Tunnel and state and local property tax deduction elimination breathed life into Gottheimer’s brand of pragmatic centrism. Plus, he was a monster fundraiser.

It helped too that Republicans appeared intent on picking one another off, mired by Trump extremism.

Gottheimer
Gottheimer

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi had appeared at one time to be a deadly proposition for Gottheimer.

Instead, the congressman could happily watch the unraveling of former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan at the feather-fisted hands of Bergen attorney John McCann in the GOP Primary, and then exult as McCann appeared utterly overmatched for a general election contest. The Democratic congressman’s bipartisan appearance with sturdy Republican state Senator Steve Oroho to denounce hate speech “in a non-political” event, carried McCann Campaign coffin nail implications, particularly since McCann had found a way to blame Nancy Pelosi for garage-scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti.

It was more bad medicine for McCann that the man he had once served as legal counsel, former Bergen Sheriff Mike Saudino – melted down amid racist comments coughed up in a seismic WNYC story.

Oh, well, at least McCann could take heart in the fact that Saudino had once actually endorsed Gotthiemer over himself.

McCann, right.

CD7: The Most Fascinating Contest of the Season

Monmouth University late last month called this an eight-point lead for Democratic challenger Tom Malinowski over incumbent U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7), an assessment that went public between the taping and televising of a News 12 debate between the two rivals.

This is a curious contest election, arguably overshadowed at times by the more Movement-oriented open seated CD-11.

Broadly, the extraordinarily genteel Lance at times appears to have been deposited by the Mayflower in the 7th District, to now fend off someone who moved into the District to run for Congress. The question is ultimately whether Lance – on the ground and visible – is hip enough to defeat someone who seems exceedingly hip but is not as well known.

Malinowski grew up in neighboring Princeton, and – while insisting on Central Jersey authenticity going back to his days in a little league baseball uniform – essentially makes the case that people should know him by his actions. His campaign’s first ad of the season made the argument that the former assistant secretary of state stood up to dictators and now wants to “Stand up for the 7th District,” implying that Lance lacks sufficient pep and moral resolve while Republican President Donald J. Trump fails to sufficiently rebuke Vladimir Putin.

Lance is supposed to be the lordly, gated aristocrat operating on Burkean oblige. But in fact, he has embodied the ultimate ear-to-the-ground political strategy, bucking President Barack Obama on climate change and the Affordable Care Act when the rightward reaches of his district prompted him, then tacking concernedly back to the center in the Trump era, in fact opposing the repeal of the ACA.

Lance v. Malinowski

Malinowski actually worked for John Kerry, but that classic 2004 ad the GOP used against Kerry depicting him drifting in the wind, could just as readily right now apply to Lance.

Anyway, that’s the way Malinowski sees it. Just this past week, his campaign issued an ad excoriating the congressman (“Lance has always voted against Obamacare,” Lance bragged in 2016) for voting 60 times to “gut the ACA” prior to voting against its repeal.

If he lacks moral backbone, according to his challenger, Lance has held firm to his roots in the district, unsparingly painting Malinowski as a carpetbagger. “I’m a lifelong resident of the district,” the congressman told News 12’s Eric Landskroner. “I know it like the back of my hand.”

He does.

InsiderNJ on Friday perused the latest newsstand copy of the Bridgewater Breeze.

On the front page is a picture of the Congressman at a packed event renaming the Raritan Post Office in honor of Medal of Honor winner John Basilone.

Raritan revolves around favorite son Basilone.

Lance’s presence bespeaks of hands-on, detail-conscious stagecraft in a battleground election year.

And he has that kind of footprint in towns across the district.

Simultaneously, the congressman’s ads have tried to depict Malinowski as a Nancy Pelosi lib, out of sync with the suburban district.

Lance doubled down in their first debate. “I do not favor a single payer system as exists in Europe,” he said. “My opponent does. ..I am a member of the problem solvers caucus. No labels.”

But Malinowski has countered with footage of the late U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) praising his human rights record. The challenger’s debate performance revealed a calm and commanding temperament.

In a district roiled by #me2 movement dynamics – evidenced in part by swamped Lance town hall meetings, and a Democratic Party victory last year in, of all places, Chris Christie brain trust ground zero – Lance’s statements seeming to favor the believability of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh over accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – opened another attack line for Malinowski.

The challenger is also exceeding Lance on the fundraising front, raising more than $2.2 million over the last three months alone, more than the incumbent has raised – $1.5 million – in the entire cycle.

Would Lance – always surgical in his political approach – in a strong enough position to withstand a Blue Wave?

Was there a Blue Wave for Malinowski in the usually sedate 7th?

Frelinghuysen
Frelinghuysen

CD11: The End of an Era

U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s decision not to run for reelection represented a significant moment in New Jersey politics: the unhorsing by Donald J. Trump of a Revolutionary War-tested family name that had once stared down the English crown.

Sherrill
Mikie Sherrill outside Frelinghuysen’s district office.

Frustrated by the Republican administration’s resistance on the Gateway Tunnel, incessant Trump tweeting, his legs tangled by his own missteps amid #me2 Movement anger, Frelinghuysen – son of a congressman, great grandson of a Secretary of State in the Chester Arthur Administration, descendant of a Continental Army general, in Congress since 1995 – took a knee.

U.S. Navy Sea King pilot and former federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill and Assemblyman Jay Webber emerged respectively from the Democratic and Republican primaries.

Webber dragged a fractured party.

Sherill had a movement behind her, albeit in a longtime Republican district.

Webber

They played to their respective bases.

Sherill was too tied to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Webber said, and tax hiking-Democrats like Phil Murphy.

Webber?

He voted against equal pay for women, Sherrill charged.

Plus, there was that endorsement that Trump tweeted at him.

Wasn’t Trump on twitter what had driven Frelinghuysen from horror off the field to begin with, or so believed Sherrill’s backers.

Sherrill had the appearance of momentum and considerable fundraising.

Webber had the dimensions of the district. If he never endeared himself to those bosses who bucked him in the primary, now he would at least be able to rely on those parochial antagonisms for strength in, for example, the Passaic portion of the district.

This mail piece at left targeting Passaic County (and Democratic State Party Chairman) Democratic Chairman John Currie hit late.

Internal assessments with a month to go called the contest too close to call.

It was all volatile…

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  • I find the lack of mention of third party candidates, particularly libertarians to be disturbing. How can anyone make an informed decision on voting if they don’t know what ALL of their options are? I

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