The contest for CD-5 is going to result in a conservative congressman, regardless of the outcome. If incumbent Democrat Josh Gottheimer, captaining a multi-million dollar campaign warchest, is returned to office, the congressman frequently bashed by CD-5 based progressive groups as being a Republican-in-all-but-name (he isn’t) will serve another two years. Following re-districting, the new CD-5 will have more of a Bergen County orientation, although there is still plenty of territory in Passaic and Sussex Counties to be represented. This change may require a slight ideological shift left for Gottheimer, but the congressman who prides himself on being a bipartisan champion, should remain, for the most part, a case of what you see is what you get.
Love him or hate him, there are no surprises when it comes to Gottheimer. He won’t be aligning himself with “The Squad” and he’s not a “Bernie Bro” but that doesn’t mean the CD-5 Republicans won’t throw everything they have at him.
The question is, which of the Republicans will be the one to do it?
They say to win the Republican nomination, you lean to the right; to win the election, you lean to the left. In the purple region of north-east New Jersey, that is certainly a truism. Looking at CD-5’s Republican primary candidates, they seem to be swaying together in almost perfect synch. Nick De Gregorio, a former marine who saw action in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the Bergen County Republican Organization’s favorite. The Fair Lawn father-of-two is running against Frank Pallotta, a businessman and banking executive whose resume includes Phil Murphy-familiar turf such as Goldman Sachs, but also Morgan Stanley. He has also founded financial firms of his own, including one which focuses on Canadian residential assets.
Also in the race is Sab Skenderi, a libertarian Republican from Wyckoff, Gottheimer’s hometown. Skenderi was a Ron Paul delegate when the former congressman made his last bid for the presidency a decade ago.
Fred Schneiderman, who earlier said he was undaunted by his poor showing with the BCRO, cited family matters and dropped out of the race.
Pallotta tried to unseat Gottheimer in 2020, besting John McCann in the primary and coming up 45% to Gottheimer’s 53% in the general. Bergen County establishment support for Pallotta fizzled out in the years since. De Gregorio swamped Pallotta in the BCRO vote for the line, taking 69% to go up against Gottheimer. Passaic County, however, went for Pallotta.
The exchange between Pallotta and De Gregorio turned sour. The latter accused the former of denigrating his military service in saying that Pallotta was better qualified for the job. Pallotta countered, saying he did not mean any disrespect to De Gregorio’s military background, but that his background in finance made him the better choice for handling CD-5’s economic challenges.
By their own words, from policy perspectives, De Gregorio and Pallotta seem very similar. The Englewood Cliffs debate, (which did not include Skenderi, a candidate who most likely would’ve shown some interesting deviations from Republican Standard) demonstrated that they both essentially agreed with President Biden’s commitment to stand by Taiwan, but took swipes at Biden anyway. They both agree with the idea of concealed carry and their interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. Both believe that parents should have input on what kind of potentially controversial gender-identity material is taught in classrooms, although that is a state issue and they are running for a federal office.
Pallotta touted his NJ Right to Life endorsement and posited himself as the ultimate pro-life choice between the two, but De Gregorio is on the same page, saying he would support a bill to ban third trimester abortion, and require parental notification if a minor is to have an abortion.
On border security and immigration, they seem to be in lockstep; likewise in support of SALT deductions, using the tried-and-true Republican talking points of high taxation and how expensive New Jersey is to live in. Few people can argue that.
All in all, there does not appear to be all that much daylight between the two candidates as far as policy goes.
Pallotta, who calls himself an outsider and a reformer, although his financial background shares some similarities with former Governor Corzine and Governor Phil Murphy, has put himself forward as the guy with the best resume to take over Josh Gottheimer’s job. He claims he has the business expertise to address CD-5’s biggest issues, which he says are fiscal ones—Clinton strategist James Carville said it crudely but accurately in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Pallotta also has tried to make lemonade from 2020 electoral lemons, asserting that he has traveled around the district and is campaigning on behalf of the whole, while trying to frame De Gregorio as having his focus just on Bergen County.
De Gregorio, younger than Pallotta, is new to politics and is a politically fresh clean slate. By touting his experience as a Marine Corps officer, he says that he is the man best equipped for the task. He also characterized himself as a suburban everyman, concerned for the well-being of his family and those of other families with young kids.
Looking at the numbers, according to the FEC as of March 31, De Gregorio had $454,466 cash on hand to Pallotta’s $83,216. Gottheimer had $13,071,464 to put to use. De Gregorio assailed Gottheimer, saying that he is afraid, and has been interfering with the Republican Primary on behalf of his 2020 rival, Pallotta. Pallotta denies this and says, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Gottheimer is actually afraid of him, and trying to erode at his base of support.
So, in essence, De Gregorio and Pallotta seem to agree more than they disagree on the issues, so Republican voters should be reasonably content with whomever the winner is. Each candidate also agreed to support the Republican nominee as well, echoing one another in saying that defeating Gottheimer was more important than their own victory. Bold rhetoric, indeed, but perhaps comforting for CD-5’s casual GOP rank and file. Where they do disagree appears to be on themselves: specifically, matters of qualification and experience. They also seem to disagree as to whom Gottheimer is more worried about, but that is a given. Ultimately, the voters will determine whether Gottheimer goes for a second round against his banking executive rival, or head to head with the combat veteran determined to carry the flag forward and victoriously plant it on election day.