In Part I we saw that Josh Gottheimer started his campaign early, about two years in advance of election day. He already had nitty gritty political experience and a commitment to equal rights. He set a centrist position in the Republican leaning district. He used his extensive network of national allies from the the Clinton universe and business world to launch a phenomenal fundraising effort.
In May 2015, I had written the ideal person to beat arch-conservative Rep. Scott Garrett needs: 1. A ton of cash, 2. Name recognition, 3. Ability to win over independents (CD 5 voter registration: Independent: 233,000, Republican: 132,000 and Democrat: 120,000), 4. Willingness to spend full-time on the race, 5. A vibrant presence on social media; 6. A strong staff; 7. It would be helpful if he/she has served in a Bergen County elected position.
In May 2015 he had reported so far only $219,000 in cash, had minimal name recognition, an unknown ability to win over independents or Republicans, was not spending full-time on his campaign, had only a minimal presence on social media, no full-time staff, and had held no elective position. But it was still 18 months to election day.
By June 30, 2015, he had increased his total donations to $631,000 plus $6,500 from PAC’s – not yet a large enough amount but already more than what other NJ challengers raised by the 2016 election day.
In July a Garden State Equality protest in front of Garret’s office in Glen Rock called for an end to Garrett’s parade of hate. Although just a couple of miles from Gottheimer’s office, Gottheimer did not attend the event. Adam Silverstein, a consultant, was there but said very little. At this point Gottheimer was still maintaining a low profile and concentrating on fundraising.
By September 30 Gottheimer had raised slightly over $1 million, but Garrett had $2.3 million in the bank. However, Garrett had just told his colleagues that he was not contributing to the House GOP’s fundraising arm because it supported gay candidates. This was one of Garrett’s biggest mistakes as he was soon rated the state’s only vulnerable federal lawmaker. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and others asked the financial industry to close their checkbooks for Garrett, and they did. Gottheimer, who included in his book speeches from LGBT leaders, soon started targeting Garrett as a bigot.
He begins to build his staff and In October, twelve months before election, he has appointed Alex Ball as his Campaign Manager. By December 31 he has raised $1.4 million, but has incurred expenses of only $150,000, saving his funds for the battle to come. After all in his last four races Garrett had won with 57% (2008), 66% (2010), 56% (2012) and 56% (2014).
By the beginning of 2016 Gottheimer has stepped up his game. He is out in the community meeting with all stripes of people – important Democratic party folks, business leaders, and lots of community members in large and small groups. His Facebook page becomes alive with photos of himself, his family, shaking hands with all kinds of people, giving speeches and attacking Garrett. For someone who in 2015 was ignoring Facebook, he (and or his staff) begin pumping out stuff almost daily.
In February 2016 Josh Gottheimer announces he is running for congress and attracts a crowd of local politicians, employees and family members. With Cory Booker at his side, he says, “I’ve heard loud and clear, [from constituents] that they want a new member of Congress – a Congressman who will solve problems instead of creating them … who will work hard and have their backs here in New Jersey, and not worry about fighting for some national Tea Party agenda… Together, we can do this.” He clearly has skills at not only writing speeches but giving them. He sharpens his attack and uses the Tea Party moniker for his opponent. He then gets himself on the DCCCs ‘Red to Blue’ Program which offers him financial, communications, grassroots, and strategic support.
He courts the Bergen County Democratic party leaders and in March they decide Gottheimer will represent them in the coming race. This is crucial as 75% of his constituents are in Bergen. John Currie, chair of Paterson Democrats and state Democrats, comes on board. Soon other CD5 counties fall into line. He is a fresh face, attractive, smart, optimistic, energetic and has a boatload of cash. By the end of April his campaign has over $2 million placing him in elite company among U. S. House contestants nation-wide.
The primary is held in June. In the three prior months he spends frugally but he is the uncontested Democratic candidate. He ends up with more primary votes than incumbent Republican Garrett.
The final Part III of this post, during the remaining months before elections, shows how he moves into hyperdrive.