Shortly after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, the Rosemary Becchi campaign sent out a triumphant statement celebrating her nomination as the Republican candidate in CD-11. This was no surprise; Becchi was unopposed, but an official win is an official win.
Less than 5 minutes later, the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fired off a statement of its own – “The Case Against Rosemary Becchi.”
With that, the race in a once-Republican district that Democrat Mikie Sherrill captured two years ago was on.
The great unknown here is whether the 2018 race was an anomaly or the new normal in a mostly suburban district covering most of Morris and parts of three other counties – Essex, Passaic and Sussex.
A good sign for Democrats is that voter registration is moving their way. There are now about 2,500 more registered Democrats in the 11th District than Republicans. Two years ago in July, the district had about 9,000 more Republicans than Dems. This really is a meaningful and perhaps telling switch.
Sherrill also has a huge financial advantage. With that in mind, a recent Becchi appeal for campaign cash asked donors to help establish her as a formidable opponent.
“I got into this race to prove to Democrats and the media I mean business, but they’re still doubting our campaign,” it said.
The primary night salvo from the DCCC took aim at Becchi’s career as a tax attorney and lobbyist. But arguably, the most substantive attack centered on Becchi’s support for the 2017 tax reform act.
This bill, which is the most significant domestic achievement of the Trump administration, lowered income tax rates across the board, raised the standard deduction and increased the federal child tax credit.
But most famously – or infamously – it also capped the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000. This may mean little in Nebraska, but it means a lot in the 11th District where many pay more than $10,000 in property taxes alone.
Sherrill and other Democrats seized on this issue in 2018 with pretty good results. They won 11 of the 12 New Jersey House seats, although one of the winners, Jeff Van Drew, is now a Republican.
Sherrill, particularly, was helped by the fact that her opponent two years ago, Jay Webber, backed the tax bill. This was in contrast to most other New Jersey Republicans. In fact, even today, doing away with the cap is very much a bipartisan concern in New Jersey.
As a congresswoman, Sherrill staged a “12 Days of Salt” event last December in an attempt to get the House to eliminate the cap. That eventually happened, but the bill has stalled in the Senate, meaning the cap remains.
Nonetheless, this figures to be a big issue in 2020 as well.
The DCCC’s primary night missive put it this way:
“Becchi lobbied for the tax law, forcing New Jerseyans to pay thousands more in taxes all while making millions for her clients.”
In response, Becchi said she’s advocated for lower taxes throughout her career and that she started an organization, Jersey Fresh, to do just that.
She says she wants to fix the deduction for state and local taxes, but that will mean little, “if we raise the rest of your taxes.” She added, “I am for lower taxes for New Jersey families. Mikie and the Democrats are for raising your taxes and raiding your retirement. We can’t afford to raise any taxes on families as we are recovering from this pandemic and trying to get our economy going again.”
That will serve as the last word for now, but for a campaign that is just beginning, it’s very much the first words on this issue.