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Like many before and after him, Keith Dakin moved out of New Jersey in 2010 saying he was over-taxed. But after a few years in South Carolina, he did something unusual, he moved back.
And now the once-again New Jersey resident says he’s gauging his options regarding a run against Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill in the 11th District. He plans to officially decide by September.
Dakin, who grew up in Maplewood and who lives in Mendham Borough, admits he’s a newcomer to politics, let alone running for Congress.
But he has something meaningful in his corner: As of now, he’s the only visible Republican seriously considering a run against Sherrill, who maintains “rock star” status among many of her admirers.
The election is more than a year away, but it’s closer than it seems. The filing deadline for the June primary is less than eight months away and any challenger is going to have to start raising money – like now.
Dakin says he’s been told by some political operatives that for starters, he needs a million dollars in campaign cash. He doesn’t buy it.
“I intend to raise money,” he said over lunch Wednesday in Fairfield, where he works as operations manager with a water conservation firm. But he rejects the idea he needs a million bucks just to begin a campaign.
Few would quibble with Dakin’s assessment that politics today is dominated by those on the far right and the far left. But he says many people – millions in fact – are somewhere in the middle.
This is hardly a new concept. The hard-core Democrats and hard-core Republicans normally cancel each other out and the winner is the candidate who claims the middle ground.
In looking back to the Democrats’ four-seat House pickup in 2018, Dakin observed that a lot of the GOP candidates distanced themselves from the president.
Ah, but not in District 11.
Jay Webber embraced President Trump in every way he could, In addition to being virtually alone among New Jersey Republicans in supporting the president’s tax cut package, Webber saw Paul Ryan and Kellyanne Conway visit the district on his behalf. Probably because of that, Webber lost the “middle” and the race to Sherrill.
Dakin suggested that he would do things differently. In his mind, conservative leadership means being a centrist more than a staunch right-winger. In fact, he brought up Webber’s vote in the Assembly last year against equal pay for women, something that he called “political madness.”
That vote continues to live on. It’s already been raised by one of Webber’s Democratic opponents in this year’s state Assembly race in District 26. Webber defends his vote, saying the bill in question was unnecessary and that he backs pay equality for women.
Women, generally speaking, are more apt to vote Democratic than Republican. Dakin knows that. He says he wants to understand why the women who usually vote Republican do so, and presumably build on that.
The overall premise here is a solid one – Republicans must do a better job appealing to women if they want to win elections in New Jersey.
Dakin and Sherrill actually had a brief encounter a few weeks ago. After a “Monday with Mikie” event in West Caldwell, Dakin questioned the congresswoman about legislation to increase the number of immigration judges on the southern border. They spoke for a few minutes.
In our conversation, Dakin had no harsh words for the congresswoman, calling her a fair and honest public servant.
There’s certainly time for him to size up his opponent, just like there’s time for Dakin to develop a genuine platform.
What’s significant is that a Republican is stepping forward in District 11.
Still, Dakin is determined to be more than a guy who just steps forward.
“I don’t want to be the candidate, because we don’t have a candidate,” he said. “I want to be a candidate who speaks to the values … Republican values and the concerns voters may have on the national level, as well as the state level.”