Clearly, this was an inspirational sojourn for the 30-year-old Prempeh, an Air Force veteran and a native and resident of Paterson.
Prempeh, who arrived for a breakfast chat in a Little Falls diner sporting a MAGA hat, said, “I always paid attention to what was going on, not just in the United States, but around the world politically.”
As for New Jersey, Prempeh says he just assumed the state was always going to be, as he put it, “full blue.” But in Wildwood, he said he met many fellow conservatives and others who agreed with him.
Prempeh was accompanied to the Trump rally by Hector Castillo, who ran unsuccessfully against Pascrell in 2016. It was Castillo who suggested that Prempeh give it a try this year. The Ninth District, which includes the Passaic County centers of Paterson, Passaic and Clifton, also branches out into southern Bergen and a wee bit of Hudson County.
No matter where the map says you are, this is “full blue” territory.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 140,000 on the registration rolls. Pascrell, who at 83 seems to have the energy of a much younger man, narrowly won his seat in 1996. But in recent years, he has been reelected with about 70 percent of the vote. His only real challenge in the last decade was in the 2012 Democratic primary when he defeated fellow Rep. Steve Rothman in a match-up caused by redistricting.
As is common with many candidates faced with a steep registration disadvantage, Prempeh is looking to the non-declared, of which there are about 180,000. He says it’s an “illusion” to consider the ninth as overly Democratic. His hope is that many of the non-declared vote for him.
Prempeh’s parents immigrated from Ghana before he was born. His early life is responsible for one of his main issues – school choice. He says his parents wanted him to attend the Fair Lawn school system, but that couldn’t happen because the family resided in Paterson.
Prempeh says students should be able to attend any public school system they want. He also wants to see schools do more to bring local professionals into the classrooms to give students practical experience.
He joked – presumably – that when he was in high school he didn’t pay much attention to trigonometry, thinking he would never need the skill.
Prempeh was a mechanic in the Air Force and is now a salesman for T-Mobile.
Notwithstanding Pascrell’s more than 20 years in Washington, Prempeh says he doesn’t resonate in the district.
“I haven’t found anyone who is enthusiastic about going out and voting for this guy,” he says. He adds that while campaigning he’s only met one person – a firefighter from Hawthorne – who was able to cite something positive the incumbent has done.
Prempeh says Pascrell’s longevity is one of the problems. He wants an 8-year term limit for House members, reasoning that if it’s good enough for the president, it should be good enough for the House.
For a man whose political awakening was a Trump rally, it’s no surprise Prempeh is an ardent supporter of the president.
He credits the president for doing what he said he was going to do. Specifically, Prempeh referenced the great economy, more funding for historically black colleges and such foreign policy successes as vanquishing terrorists and wiping out ISIS.
In contrast perhaps to this very pro-Republican position, Prempeh offered a very nuanced position on police reform.
He says police need more funding, not less. But using examples from his hometown of Paterson, he says police abuses also need to be examined. Prempeh advocated for a national office of police accountability to investigate allegations of police wrongdoing. He said an outside review could avoid the political entanglements that hinder investigations of alleged police wrongdoing today. He said it would also lead to more transparency.
Prempeh comes across as an impressive fellow, but also one who is facing incredibly long odds as an ardent Trump backer in a Dem stronghold.
He says state Republicans are ignoring his campaign, but he’s determined to shatter the perception that a conservative can’t win in urban New Jersey
“I want to shift that narrative,” he says.