The Battle for CD 5

The public battle against incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett is heating up while a challenger battle is percolating slowly. There are more than enough issues to counter Rep. Scott  Garrett’s seven-term incumbency in CD 5. Yesterday in Glen Rock Garden State Equality protesters were incensed over Garrett’s bigotry. In addition, many of his votes in Congress are an outrage to the average New Jersey voter. However, few residents pay much attention to what their representative does in Washington.

A key to defeating Rep. Garrett in the 2016 election is a challenger to put out a strong positive message and explain why Garrett is so bad for the district (and America.) This is expensive. Even with $1 million the well-regarded last challenger Roy Cho could not make big TV buys and lost by 13 points. Because this incumbent is so entrenched the challenger will need to launch mayor TV ads, mail rounds of circulars, hire a strong staff, and implement effective street-outreach and get-out-the-vote – an effort much more substantial than in most other districts.  

Adam Silverstein, a consultant for unannounced Dem candidate Josh Gottheimer calculates a successful campaign could necessitate as much as $4 million. In just a few months Gottheimer, according to his June 30 FEC report, has raised $631,000, largely out-of-state, from some 150 individuals contributing $2,700 and others donating lesser amounts. In addition he received $6,500 from PAC’s and committees. He has $586,000 cash on hand.

More on strategy below the fold.

Garrett has a strong election track record. In his last four races he won with 57% (2008), 66% (2010), 56% (2012) and 56% (2014). The fact that in the last two presidential election years, when there is a larger turn out, his margin decreased from 66% to 56% is a positive sign as 2016 is also a presidential year.

However, the Democratic candidate has to reach out to Democrats, Unaffiliated, and some moderate, disaffected  Republicans. In the most recent count of registered voters in CD 5 (2014) there were 233,000 Unaffiliated, 132,000 Republicans, and 120,000 Democrats. We don’t know the affiliation status (or lack thereof) of who votes in an election and for which specific candidate. Nonetheless in the last election those who voted for Garret were the equivalent of 80% of registered Republicans whereas those who voted for Roy Cho represented 68% of registered Democrats. The effort for the challenger starts with capturing a larger number of Democrats.

With 2016 as a presidential election year the vote count will be higher. Turnout in 2014 in CD 5 was 189,000 but in the prior presidential year (2012) it was 304,000. The highest turn out in any CD that year was 310,000, which suggest that given NJ’s notoriously low turnout one cannot expect much more than 304,000 voters. While gaining new supporters is important a substantial number of the 300,000 will have to be encouraged to flip their vote.

The majority of voters are in Bergen County (73%) where there are plenty of Democrats, but Garrett won this county in 2014 by a close 71,000 to 67,000. The challenger needs to take Bergen with a substantial margin. Adam Silverstein thinks that a Democratic candidate in Bergen has to win with a margin of  at least 12,000 votes. The other counties are more onerous as Garrett won in Passaic 6,000 to 3,000, in Sussex 16,000 to 7,000 and in Warren 11,000 to 5,000.

Josh Gottheimer, a 40 year-old resident of Wyckoff, worked for the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and General Wesley Clark. He was employed  by the FEC and is currently a top strategist for Microsoft. He has also taught history at the University of Pennsylvania and was a visiting fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. He is on the Rutgers Business School Advisory Board, founded Business Forward in the state, and is a member of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and AIPAC.

He is holding on to his day job, has not yet hired a campaign manager, has issued no presser on Garrett’s bigotry and has not formally announced his candidacy. With the current antipathy of the public and media toward Garrett, now is a good time for Gottheimer (or another challenger) to become fully engaged and capitalize on Garrett’s nasty proclivities. Issuing a press release condemning bigotry would be a good start.

Gottheimer has his office in Wychoff with a sign on the door that says Microsoft. Some people think it might be a sales or repair place and bring their defective computer. He needs a separate campaign headquarters where a steady stream of potential constituents, volunteers and staff can gin up his effort. His official website where you can volunteer, make a donation or learn more about him is here. His twitter account is here.  

There does not appear to be any other serious Democratic challenger at the moment. Gottheimer’s current cash on hand of $586,000 is likely to scare off most other Democratic would-be candidates. Republican Michael Cino who has challenged Garret in primaries for the 2006 and 2012 elections says he is running again, but has not registered yet with the Federal Election Commission because he has not reached the minimum $5,000 donation level.

A successful campaign battle involves a candidate, volunteers, messaging, donors, protest, staff, timing, money and much more. However, the successful battles for which we are most proud are often the most difficult. Retiring Garrett would generate a lot of pride.

All election data comes from The NJ Division of Elections.

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