Why Garrett Loves the Fifth District Primary Process

Yeah, we’ll be discussing NJ-5 for a while. Again. Still. – promoted by Rosi

Every two years we all jump on Blue Jersey to discuss if we can find a candidate to beat Scott Garrett.  So far it hasn’t happened.  In my humble opinion, one of the big reasons that we haven’t been able to find a good candidate to stand up is simple: The party line on the ballot.

The BCDO line candidate won the fifth district primary yet again yesterday.  Looking at the numbers of the Democratic Primary in the Bergen County part of the  Fifth is a near useless endeavor.  The reason Gussen did so well in Bergen is simple: the party line.  This is a sad but very real reality.  In years where there is a low primary turnout, the majority of primary voters are uneducated on the candidates.  So what they do instead of educating themselves and making an intelligent choice, is vote straight down the line.  Time and again we have seen Fifth district candidates be able to put their campaigns into cruise control and coast to victory on the line.  The result of the line is that potentially good candidates are scared away from running.  While the candidates that do run don’t let themselves get fully invested in their campaigns, because everyone who has been around Bergen politics long enough know that you have to get the line and not getting it puts months of hard work to waste.

My mother (Camille Abate for anyone that doesn’t know) is a perfect example of why the line dilutes potential fifth district candidates.  Following her first run for Congress in 2006, she wrote a less than tactful email that was “leaked” stating that Joe Ferriero ran the BCDO like a mob.  She then decided she was going to run again in 2007–this time with a much more professional campaign.  At the BCDO convention that year Mr. Ferriero told every committee member in his pocket to vote for Dennis Shulman, the vast majority of them did.  Even though we didn’t get the line, our campaign didn’t think much of the results.  After all we were running a real campaign this time and had raised a bunch of money ($290K by primary day).  We were very confident, feeling we had marketed our campaign significantly better in 2008 than in 2006.  However the result–much like this year–was nearly identical to 2006.  I’m not saying whether she should have won or lost the primary–thats old news–but to spend that much money and have the result be basically identical is telling.  We had campaigned from June 2007-June 2008, spending 40-60 hours a week raising money on the phones, and spending the rest of our time canvassing (usually to a positive response).  Despite all of that, the line still proved to be more powerful.  

My mother said afterward she didn’t think she would ever run again.  She couldn’t afford to spend that much time of her life campaigning only to have it potentially be torpedoed–at the BCDO convention–before the primary ever takes place.  I think many potential fifth district candidates feel the same way.  In the two election cycles (counting this one) since 2008, no candidate has made a full time committment to running for congress.  I believe the party line has a lot to do with that.

As I said in a post earlier today, Adam Gussen raised no money, had almost no social media presence, and did almost no campaigning.  Yet Adam Gussen won 55% of the vote.  If it isn’t clear now, I don’t think it ever will be: we need open primaries throughout New Jersey.  We need to force citizens to educate themselves on the candidates.  Until this happens, our party bosses will continue to hand pick our candidates, and much of New Jersey (and most of Bergen) will essentially continue to be a Democratic Oligarchy.

If we really want to beat Garrett, we need a system that encourages potential candidates to make running for congress a full time gig, encourage them to take the hours, days, weeks, and months it takes to adequately fundraise, and promote primary competition.  I believe open primaries and eliminating the line would do this.

Comments (8)

  1. carolh

    This is why it was so criminal that the BCDC prevented Jason from running by using stall tactics and ultimately deception. I want a full investigation of when Gussen asked for his lists, when he got them, and whether they had phone numbers on them.  

  2. War Horse

    I agree that the BCDC line is the most powerful asset any candidate running in the Democratic Primary can have.  Americans don’t pay enough attention to the positions of candidates.  I say “Americans” because this problem is hardly unique to Bergen County.

    We can debate the merits and shortcomings of the BCDC but we as Democrats need some sort of structure.  The alternative is a wild-west free-for-all.  Such a lack of structure would lose every time to an organized BCRO.

    I know your mother and even worked on one of her campaigns.  She’s bright, concerned and runs for office for all the right reasons.

    I can’t speak as to how your mother was treated by past iterations of the BCDC and those that pulled the strings.

    However, I think we need to overlay a realistic plan to defeat Scott Garrett on top of a Democratic structure  – be it the BCDC or something else.  Such a plan must have buy-in from all four county operations.  Without that plan we’re simply replacing one candidate for another every two years.

  3. Erik Preuss (Post author)

    Adam Gussen renders this post useles…I have my doubts, but am more than willing to be made a believer if he a real desire to fundraise and win this race.

  4. 12mileseastofTrenton

    we need an A-list candidate.  He’s never had to face one.

  5. Nick Lento

    …the actual disease is the fact that the party establishments (in both parties) do not reflect the best interests of ordinary people.

    They have become self serving patronage mills which stay in power by “virtue” of the fact that they control the various County Committees.

    Sadly, the old BCDO had NO interest in doing what it would take to beat Garrett.   Such a movement would be a threat to the power of the machine.  The last thing they want is tens of thousands of newly registered voters and a massive increase in turnout in primaries.   All of that would result in a diminution of the machine’s power.

    An honest party line would consist of candidates that had genuine popular support and the potential to win and serve well.   As it is “the line” is used to reinforce cronyism and the power of machines in general.

    Many good decent loyal Democrats, especially the seniors, come out to vote the party line…assuming that they are voting their own best interests……the answer is to make the parties actually reflect the best interests of the people rather than of the insiders who dominate the party infrastructures.


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