At its core, the CD11 contest appears to appeal only to that part of the political population craving a Monty Python-style limb hacking fest in a Democratic Primary followed by U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (pictured) (R-11) sleepily steamrolling whatever’s left semi-standing.
But CD11 bears closer scrutiny, as numerous Democrats continue to saber-rattle amid what they see as the early ruins of Presidential Donald J. Trump’s stewardship, even as longtime Republican incumbent and apparently thermo-nuclear war-proof GOP-district-suckled Frelinghuysen, though inflicting wounds on himself, appears burrowed in for life.
The cross-section of the Trump administration’s early failures, low poll numbers and Frelinghuysen’s resolute shy and retiring aversion to town halls have Democrats in at least two of the district’s four counties turf pawing and vying to be that person who stands at a podium in the 2018 general election and rails alone against an absent and ultimately victorious Frelinghuysen.
Joe Minish (1963-1985) was the last Democrat to serve the district, but it’s tilted Republican in several redistricting episodes since, and then there’s Frelinghuysen himself, whose family goes back to the Revolutionary War, dug in since 1995.
The results from his elections make San Francisco’s 49-25 point butt-kicking of the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX look competitive.
That 62-37% showing came in back to back contests with Democratic challenger Tom Wyka (2006 and 2008) who gained but a few points with the advantages of Bush-Iraq War fatigue and the Obama revolution before Frelinghuysen reset nearly uniformly back to an even more comfortable 67-31% showing in 2010. But that history does little to deter those emergent contenders.
Right now, Essex County (13 towns) and Passaic County (eight towns) Democrats appear to be in a showdown, with two smaller showdowns internally bifurcating the ranks of mostly listless establishment players newly animated by “the resistance,” otherwise known as lefties enraged by Trump.
In Essex, former helicopter pilot Mikie Sherrill has captured the imagination early of those politics watchers who feel that white men (considering the crumbled bookends of George W. Bush and Trump) have fumbled away whatever advantages they started with in federal politics. As Trump somewhat mirrors at the national level a ‘tude that Governor Chris Christie for years employed to bully New Jersey Democrats and make grown men shake in their boots while racking up YouTube points, Sherrill – trained as a prosecutor with ten years of military service – literally lands on the scene like a study in gravitas.
But she’s not alone.
Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27) has sagely captained his Trenton bully pulpit to instruct those precious few who care to watch in how to land a headline here and a story there on his way to making the capable case that elected office, yes, in fact, can be cool and not just for losers. McKeon is so competent, that he earned the respect of his peers in two entirely separate disciplines, for years chairing the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee only to briefly fall from favor then ensnare and amplify himself as head of the even more glamorous Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Today, he started throwing subpoenas around.
Watching all of this is powerful Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones (and powerful Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo) who want a good candidate to throw on that general election ticket next year mostly to pad the numbers for Joe D.
Then there’s Passaic County.
Freeholder John Bartlett already announced he’s in and in to win, going so far at his kickoff ceremony to note that he’s up for reelection countywide next year and would rather take the crack at Frelinghuysen – even though (again) the Republican congressman looks like a reelection lock even in the worst weather.
(Trump barely won it 49-48%, those most hopeful Democratic voices persist – and that was before this colossal tanking!)
But Bartlett will soon have company – in addition to what Sherrill (also officially announced) and McKeon (turf pawing) provide.
Woodland Park Keith Kazmark wants in, sources say.
He wants it.
He craves the match-up with the austere and academic (Harvard-educated no less) Bartlett as that demonstration of a boots-on-the-ground mayor who can best expose Frelinghuysen as that head-in-the-clouds congressmen who’s simply lost touch in the hailstorm of Trump’s twitter account.
Bartlett v. Kazmark.
That’s easily resolved, right?
Let Bartlett run for the congressional seat, sources say. The guy actually once tried to get in the conversation for a U.S. Senate vacancy – as a freeholder. Give him what he wants! He’ll lose, but give him the shot. Then slot the likeable and regular guy Kazmark in the freeholder seat. Problem solved.
Not that easy.
Not by a long shot.
First of all, Freeholder Pat Lepore already serves Woodland Park. So the other towns in Passaic, each appointed with any number of fragile and ambitious political egos, will have to digest two freeholders from Woodland Park while they get passed over in the power game. Won’t work.
Then there’s Essex.
Why should Jones and DiVincenzo gulp down Bartlett from Passaic rather than pressing the case for McKeon, who shores up the western part of the county, the county wing of the Codey, innately antagonistic to their interests? Or even instead of the apparently magnetic Sherrill?
“Joe D. will be a player here,” a source told InsiderNJ.
Then there’s this from a source: Passaic County Democratic Committee Chairman John Currie will seek consensus sooner than Napoleon Bonaparte it against Essex.
“John will want to resolve that, the source told InsiderNJ. “He’s not going to take a Passaic candidate against an Essex candidate. He’ll look for someone who most appeals to both counties.”
And to the other two, which contain portions of CD11: Morris and Sussex.
Remember, it was Currie last year who quickly corralled his fellow chairs around Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy sooner than fan the flames of party war, thereby depriving all the non-combatants of a legitimate fight.
So if Kazmark v. Bartlett in Passaic and McKeon v. Sherrill in Essex (or McKeon v. Sherrill v. Al Anthony, a local elected official in Livingston) gets resolved in the pre-primary period as a kind of Currie-miniaturized version of last year’s pre-gubernatorial contest, one source said Sherrill occupies a strong position. Currie met with her and was mildly wowed, a source noted, even as others protest, pointing out that she has not yet truly experienced the furnaces of New Jersey politics. Still others argue that she doesn’t even live in the district.
But Currie liked her, and she lives in Montclair, a key Essex town and valuable for DiVincenzo. Still – McKeon… But McKeon might go to the Murphy Administration. Remember, he’s close to Senator Dick Codey, an early and critical backer of Murphy. If not attorney general, perhaps Department of Environmental Protection awaits the smart 27th District assemblyman. Bartlett? If Bartlett senses he lacks support, might he hear the siren song of his own receding freeholder seat and pivot to protect it sooner than wade into a primary that he can’t win let alone a quixotic general?
Up for reelection this year not next and apparently in cruise control, the mayor appears to have nothing to lose by hanging around and causing havoc. But if he possesses plenty of friends in his home county who vouch for him and take pains to express admiration for his work ethic, he would still have to convince Jones and DiVincenzo that he kill it in a general election.
The Bob Menendez factor probably makes Joe D. and Jones a little leery, too, of taking on an unknown or lower order politician from Passaic in the event that the indicted U.S. Senator (also up for reelection next year) either doesn’t make it to the finish line, arrives mangled, or hands the baton to a shakier successor, coupled with the possibility that Republicans dredge up a contender on the order of Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli or U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur.
Might the three or four men in the contest cancel one another out or land other rewards for trying, as a peace-seeking Currie and Jones-in-Joe D.-protective-mode, pursue an Essex option suitable to all corners of the district with a captivating narrative and demonstrable fundraising ability (Sherrill raised $245,000 in two months) early otherwise known as Sherrill?
It could happen.
Or Sherrill could crack up.
She was a military helicopter pilot.
Grace under pressure goes with the turf.
But this is New Jersey politics, so it doesn’t have to necessarily go down that way, as the situation right now with Sherrill and Bartlett in, Kazmark almost in and McKeon hovering – and Anthony hovering – and the genteel Frelinghuysen quietly suffering Trump’s tweets from the leafy cocoons of Harding – remains – for all intents and purposes – volatile.