Democratic challenger Stephanie Schmid showed her mettle in an Asbury Park Press-sponsored CD4 debate with longtime U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4), repeatedly and aggressively going on offense and highlighting an old sore spot with the Republican pro-life warhorse: Smith’s residency.
The issue of abortion obviously starkly divided the two candidates.
Installed in the district since 1981, Smith rides a 164,917 to 144,085 Republicans over Democrats registration advantage. The 217,450 independent voters have leaned Republican in past elections.
“He’s slow to respond [to storms] because he doesn’t live in New Jersey,” Schmid said. “He wasn’t feeling the effects of the storms here; the power outages.
“While we sheltered in place during the COVID crisis, Congressman Smith was in Herndon, Virginia writing an important letter to Ireland, telling them what to do about abortion laws,” Schmid said, bemoaning a lawmaker who has lost touch.
“After 39 years, it’s time to try something new,” said the challenger.
Smith shot back, referring to a YouTube of his rival where “she defended a polluter; she has yet to say how much money she got from Transocean. “I live in Hamilton Township, and we love the beach,” said the congressman. “We got married [in the late 1970’s] on a jetty.”
A retired Foreign Service Officer and human rights advocate, Schmid noted that Smith voted against the Affordable Care Act on several occasions and criticized him for not providing an adequate alternative plan to keep people covered. She’s stoutly pro-choice, and the pair jousted on the subject against the backdrop of the United States Supreme Court summoning the votes to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Smith underscored his longstanding position, and Schmid jumped on him hard.
“You have no right to tell a woman what to do with her body,” said the challenger. “The congressman signed onto a brief [urging the Supreme Court] overturning of Roe v. Wade. …The federal government should not be involved.”
“The Hyde Amendment…notes three exceptions: rape, incest and the life of the mother,” Smith said.
“You didn’t put them in there, the Democrats did,” Schmid said.
“I did; I sure did” said Smith. “My position at least is we ought to help the weakest and the most vulnerable.”
A Yale University-educated human rights advocate and former foreign officer from Little Silver who once interned for U.S. Rep. Smith, Schmid has mostly flown under the radar in her bid to oust Smith, New Jersey’s longest-serving member of Congress and the only Republican in the NJ delegation prior to U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2) switching his party affiliation earlier this year.
Van Drew and his challenger, educator Amy Kennedy, have commanded more press attention than Smith v. Schmid, in part owing to the comparative composition of the districts and Smith’s entrenched service. At the very least, the well-prepared and well-spoken CD4 challenger gave the congressman a strong debate challenge this afternoon. But Smith relied on the conservative dimensions of the district to highlight key support, including that of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA).
Joe Strupp, who moderated the debate, asked the congressman about his support for Trump, and Smith fretted about “some of the way he handles himself verbally and his tweets, we don’t like it”, but affirmed his support for the president on policy, significantly on Israel.
Schmid repudiated the president.
“President Trump’s foreign policy has been a disaster,” she said. “We no longer have strong relationships with our allies, because of this president’s divisive trade wars.”
The granddaughter of a WWII and Korean War veteran condemned Trump for allegedly making statements calling servicemen killed in combat “losers.” “Congressman Smith has been absolutely silent,” said the challenger. “He is in this president’s pocket.”
Smith shot back.
“There needs to be proof, rather than somebody writing an article [citing an anonymous source],” said the congressman.
Schmid criticized Smith for affiliating with a president who belittles his opponent for wearing a mask during the coronavirus crisis. “I’m so thankful to live in a state where we took the virus seriously while the president was misleading us [on the virus].
“Masks should be… encouraged,” Smith said.