As the summer of 2022 melts into the history books, there’s a temptation to want to see the post-Labor Day campaign as just another bi-annual Congressional election as the media’s pundit class frames it.
You can see it with their made for TV graphics that flash the historic trend lines that show the party with an incumbent in the White House loses seats in Congress.
Here in New Jersey, even after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe, the influential Cook Political Report continued to list New Jersey’s 3rd CD as a “lean” Republican with former State Senators Tom Kean Jr. favored to unseat Rep. Tom Malinowski (D).
The respected political analysis source FiveThirtyEight also put Malinowski on the endangered list while predicting victories for the 2nd CD’s Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the Democrat, who switched his allegiance in homage to Donald Trump, and his Republican colleague Rep. Chris Smith, whose been representing the 4th CD since 1980.
It will be curious to see if pundits budge on their handicapping after voters in a red state like Kansas turned out in unprecedented numbers to vote down the proposal to end the state constitutional guarantee of a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her reproductive health.
In the latest Kansas returns, the no vote opposing the anti-abortion provision drew more than 900,000 voters out, “about two-thirds of the number of votes cast in the 2020 presidential election. It’s a staggering level of voting for a measure put on the ballot in August,” reported Phillip Bump in the Washington Post.
Bump continued. “There were 14 counties — home to nearly a third of the state’s population — that backed Trump in 2020 and voted against the proposed amendment this week. Those counties backed Trump by 20 points and “no” by 13 points.”
Ahead of this latest election, Kansas saw a voter registration surge with over 70 percent of the new voters being women.
Rep. Smith has long been a staunch anti-abortion partisan and in fact was the executive director of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee prior to his election to the House over 40 years ago. When the high court overturned Roe, Smith hailed the controversial ruling that he’s worked towards his entire professional life.
“There is nothing humane, compassionate or benign about abortion,” Smith declared in a statement on his website. “Abortion is not healthcare, unless one construes the precious life of an unborn child to be analogous to a tumor to be excised or a disease to be vanquished.”
He continued. “The 1973 Supreme Court anti-child decisions and several that followed like Casey have enabled the violent death of unborn baby girls and boys by dismemberment, decapitation, forced expulsion from the womb, deadly poisons, and other violent methods at any time and for any reason until birth.”
Smith’s Democratic opponent, Colts Neck small businessman Matt Jenkins is making reproductive rights a top campaign issue in a district where the Republican incumbent has sailed to victory with usually over 60 percent of the vote. “The GOP is looking to control and subjugate half the population,” writes Jenkins. “It is time to codify Roe into federal law for the safety of all women across this country.”
He continues. “We are all equal under the law. Equality is only achieved through the freedom to control our own bodies, lives and futures. Birth control is health care. Affordable access to birth control is a right, not a privilege. Healthcare is a decision between a patient and their doctor. The government has no business in the exam room.”
Van Drew’s arc on the abortion issue is far more circuitous than Smith’s which has been rock steady in his anti-abortion stance. As late as 2019, New York Magazine ’s Intelligencer reported that Van Drew’s conversion to the GOP meant that there would now be a solitary pro-choice member of Trump’s Greek House chorus.
“But there’s an aspect of Van Drew’s apostasy that could cause Trump and the GOP some heartburn, too,” reported the Intelligencer. “After the 2018 elections (when Rodney Frelinghuysen and Charlie Dent retired), the anti-abortion movement could boast it had finally hunted to extinction the once-vibrant herd of pro-choice House Republicans. Whatever else he is now, Van Drew is pro-choice, having received a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood in the New Jersey legislature, and then saying this during his 2018 congressional campaign:
‘I’m strongly and unequivocally pro-choice: I support Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose. Any efforts to weaken or undermine that right will face my fierce opposition.’”
That was then.
“The Supreme Court made the right decision to return this issue to the states so they can create their own laws regarding abortion,” Van Drew declared in a statement issued on June 22, the day the Supreme Court issued the Dobbs vs. Jackson Health Organization decision that overturned the Roe vs. Wade precedent.
In 2020, Van Drew prevailed with just 51.9 percent of the vote versus his energetic Democratic opponent Amy Kennedy, who garnered over 174,000 to the incumbent’s 196,000. New Jersey’s 2nd district is one of some twenty odd districts in the country where President Obama prevailed in 2008 and 2012 but Trump won in 2016.
In 2020, Trump hung on in the 2nd CD 50.8 percent to Biden’s 47.9 percent.
This year, Van Drew faces Democratic challenger Tim Alexander, a former detective captain with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office whose experience being racially profiled inspired him to shift the focus of his career to prioritizing improving community relations and building trust in law enforcement. Alexander, who is now in private practice, went on to work as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s office.
“Tim will protect women’s health care and believes that health care decisions should be made by a woman and her doctor, not politicians in Washington,” pledges Alexander’s campaign website. “Tim believes it is outrageous that women working full-time make 82 cents to every dollar a man earns. The gap is even wider for Black women, who make just 63 cents compared to white men.”
What the national media pundits’ historical charts on past races can’t account for is the ongoing nature of the unsettled history we are living. The insurrection is always framed as having been suppressed at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, something we are examining from the comfort of the rear view mirror.
Sad to say, as long as you have the U.S. Secret Service, and officials with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense not complying with a Congressional subpoena for text messages from that day, the resistance to lawful order endures at the highest level of our government.
Trump’s knee capping President-elect Biden’s transition, amidst a pandemic mass death event, has had significant and lingering consequences not appreciated by the media nor the general public even half way through the sitting President’s tenure. It was all part of the mulit-faceted plan that the Department of Justice and Congress were slow to grasp by Trump to subvert and overthrow the peaceful democratic transition of power.
As Carol Leonnig has reported in the Washington Post, it even included the U.S. Secret Service failing to provide Biden the same level of protection it extended to winners of previous elections before their Inauguration.
As of this writing, the U.S. Post Office is still under the control of Trump appointee Louis DeJoy who told the American Enterprise Institute on July 27 he planned on consolidating the nation’s 500 processing facilities down to 65 to 75 regional hubs, according to the Federal News Network . DeJoy, who in 2020 notoriously tampered with the operation of the Post Office, as states were relying on voting by mail, told the right wing group “we may need to get 50,000 people out of the organization.”
Just last month, Rep.Bill Pascrell demanded that President Biden fire IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, a Trump holdover, after it was disclosed the IRS had “randomly” audited the former FBI Director Jim Comey and the agency’s former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who Trump had vilified.
“If you think the audit of Donald Trump’s purported enemies was a random act of God then I have a bridge in North Jersey I’d like to sell you,” Pascrell said in a statement. “There may be no group on the face of this earth that deserves the benefit of the doubt less than Donald Trump and his government enablers. The IRS under Donald Trump’s handpicked commissioner Charles Rettig has been one catastrophe after another. The auditing of two law enforcement leaders at Trump’s behest is a titanic scandal.”
As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Rep. Pascrell has focused intently on fixing the IRS. Back on October 26, he demanded answers from Rettig on systemic mail delays impacting IRS operations, tax filings, and refunds as well as the IRS’s “continually sending out erroneous notices to taxpayers.”
This isn’t the U.S. of yesteryear and wishing it were so can’t restore it.
Could the seismic shift in Kansas be the bellwether of a macro trend that could result in voters here in New Jersey turning out the two remaining Republicans in New Jersey’s Congressional delegation and keeping the ten Democratic CDs blue?
Kansas last voted for a Democrat for President in 1964 when it picked Johnson over Sen. Barry Goldwater, who was cast as that era’s right wing extremist.
The Trump junta muscles remain powerful and life altering as we saw with its U.S. Supreme Court majority recently voting 6 to 3 to strip women of their reproductive rights as codified for half a century.
We are still relatively an unstable and heavily armed nation where a substantial percentage of the population, actually one in four, according to one recent poll, believe it’s ok to use violence against the government and a substantial percentage don’t think Biden won the 2020 election.
It’s an open question if we have it in us to find redemption at the ballot box. Hopefully, Kansas means there’s a chance we still can.