HARDING TWP. – As about 200 or so people gathered on a small rise above the town post office, more than one made the same observation.
“Hard to believe this is Harding,” is how long-time resident Linda Baydin put it.
Another said in astonishment, “lefties in Harding.”
Indeed, there were a lot of “lefties” in Harding, one of the wealthiest and traditionally Republican locales in the state, on this overcast fall morning three days before the Nov. 6 election.
If the star of Saturday’s get-out-the-vote rally was Mikie Sherrill, the congressional candidate in District 11, the superstar of the show was Sen. Cory Booker.
As they both stood in a circle surrounded by sign-waving supporters and fall foliage, an unshaven Booker said he was in need of sleep, having just returned from North Dakota where he campaigned for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp who is in a tough reelection battle.
He told the crowd that in Sherrill, they have a “rising star,” one who is even known by people in North Dakota, That sounds a bit dubious, but it certainly fit with the upbeat, rah-rah mood of the morning.
Reflecting on the election of Donald Trump two years ago, Booker said he went home with a headache the day Trump was inaugurated. But he said he eventually took heart from the many left-wing organizations that popped up soon after Trump took office.
“It (was) time to stand up,” Booker said. “And in New Jersey and in this district, you started organizing.”
The reference was to the group, 11th For Change, which as the name suggests, started working to unseat Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, who by the way is a Harding Township resident. Sherrill is the beneficiary of that effort.
But it’s not only Congress. Two Democrats are running an active campaign for the Harding Township Committee, and one of them is the daughter of James Barry, a one-time Republican assemblyman.
Booker stated the obvious. Unless Democrats win on Tuesday, all the organizing, protests and marches over the last two years will be for naught.
Chip Robinson, the Morris County Democratic chairman, stood on the edge of the crowd and admitted that a few years ago, it may have been tough to find 200 registered Democrats in the township, let alone get them to come to the post office for a political rally.
Not surprisingly, not all in the township, which includes the sections of New Vernon and Green Village, are enthused about the changing political winds.
As the Democrats gathered 100 feet or so away, Republican Committee-member Nanette DiTosto distributed fliers boosting her reelection. DiTosto tried to ignore the Democrats. saying she was concentrating on her own race.
Others were a bit more, shall we say, animated.
One man complained loudly that the crowd and the commotion made it difficult to get to the post office. He blamed Sherrill. shouting that she should not be elected and telling some of her supporters to “get out of my town.”
In time, the man got his mail and drove away. And the rally ended.
As he walked to his car, Booker reiterated the Democrats’ talking points as the election dawns. It’s not merely a Republican and Democratic thing, he said. It’s that the Republican party, as now constituted, runs counter to New Jersey values and beliefs, according to the senator.
Driving out of Harding, one sees a sign on James Street commemorating a gift of land to the township by the Frelinghuysen family. The land, which is across the street from the congressman’s home, is preserved as open space.
The sign paying tribute to the Frelinghuysen family is now bracketed by two Mikie Sherrill for Congress campaign signs. One wonders if that’s the new reality for Hardiing Township, Morris County and the 11th District.