In exactly 24 hours, the polls will close for this year’s Primary Election, and those of us who actually live in NJ-9 will be glad it’s over. By most accounts, this race looks to be very close, and will turn on which candidate gets his supporters to the polls. As a 9th District voter, I endorsed Bill Pascrell early on. And, having been bombarded by Steve Rothman’s increasingly dishonest and negative campaign, I’m proud that I did, and proud to be joined in that endorsement by much of organized labor, The Star Ledger and most recently, The Record.
Yet, to listen to the Rothman campaign (and no, I don’t mean its over-eager surrogates), one would conclude that Pascrell is anti-choice, anti-environment, anti-gay, and essentially unworthy of the office. The Rothman mailers keep arriving each day, and each with a new outrageous claim. But, when you look at the facts, Bill Pascrell has a long record of being pro-choice, a stellar environmental record, and has been fighting for equality for gay families since long before the marriage equality debate even made it to the mainstream.
The fact is both candidates have similar voting records in Congress, as loyal democrats on issues ranging from choice, civil rights, taxes, the environment, etc. Pascrell has gotten higher marks from labor groups, including police, firemen and teachers, because he has more consistently supported worker’s rights, and more strongly opposed outsourcing jobs to other countries. (I guess Pascrell should be sending out mail calling Rothman a job-killer who hates America, but he has stuck to a more positive campaign about his own service and abilities rather than going negative by twisting the truth.) Any honest assessment of their voting records would reveal them to be similarly progressive.
So, without substantial differences on the progressive-o-meter, yes I do think we’re free to look at other factors beyond “issues” – much as progressive voters will be doing in NJ-10 and LD-16. Members of Congress do a lot more than just cast votes – from constituent services, to accessibility, to supporting local parties and candidates, to advocating/supporting cleaner more open government, or people-power, to other intangibles that should matter to all progressives.
A big issue early on – whether Rothman should have even engaged this race, rather than running in the District where he lived – remains an issue today. Putting aside the gratuitous name-calling that prevailed at the start of the campaign, Rothman’s decision not to run in a 70% Bergen County District, with only a slight (51-49%) Republican lean, against far and away the worst Congressman for progressives in New Jersey, Scott Garrett, matters.
So, when Pascrell says he is “a fighter who will stand toe-to-toe with the tea party,” I get why the Rothman partisans might be upset by the contrast. But it’s there, and it’s obvious, and it matters. We went from the real possibility of a 7-5 delegation, with a well-funded, well-known, Bergen County incumbent challenging Garrett, to a guaranteed 6-6 delegation that still includes Garrett. That doesn’t make Rothman a coward or a wimp or a schmuck – it just makes him the guy who declined to take on Garrett, and chose instead to run against a fellow democratic incumbent in a primary.
Add it all up, and for me, the choice is clear: I hope my fellow 9th District voters join me in supporting Bill Pascrell in NJ-9.
I’ve spoken often about the value primaries can offer to the Democratic party, and to our state, particularly in races where the primary winner will likely cruise to victory in November. I stand by that. But, it works best when candidates highlight their own strengths and honestly address their opponent’s flaws – not when one Democrat makes pants-on-fire claims against another Democrat in a scorched-earth campaign. When that happens, no one wins.