2018: The NJ path toward flipping Republican congressional districts: Part VI – Some do’s and don’t’s

Bumped. This conclusion to Bill’s 6-part series on taking back GOP House seats (and defending CD5 in Gottheimer’s first re-elect) came out just before Thanksgiving, and the demands of family, green bean casserole and bourbon pecan pie took over.  This, and Bill’s entire series, is worth a second look. 2018 came early. – Rosi



In 2018 we have a unique opportunity to flip four congressional districts: CD 2, an open seat held by retiring Frank LoBiondo (R), CD 3’s Tom MacArthur, CD 7’s Leonard Lance, and CD 11’s Rodney Frelinghuysen. Gaining these seats strengthens New Jersey’s influence in Washington. Plus, it increases the likelihood of Democrats taking control of the House. Retaining the recaptured CD 5 now held by Josh Gotthiemer (D) is a must-win. In the above map each color denotes a separate congressional district, and its district number is in red on a white background. 

  • Early resistance efforts lay the groundwork. Its leaders need to establish good connections with the local press and use a mailing list of state reporters. Let them know in advance about planned action dates. These events put pressure on the incumbent but just as importantly if reported by the press they let local constituents know the bad judgment, even sneaky actions, of their representative. With little coverage as has sometimes been the case in the past we lack an informed public tuned in to the changes needed. Join a resistant group and attend the rallies. There are many such national groups including Indivisible which provides lots of timely, useful information. Local groups, including unions and progressive organizations, pop up frequently to protest specific matters.
  • How to engage with the ‘resistance’ groups which have already been focused on the incumbent GOP House members for months. Don’t float ‘above’ them, don’t come in late and try to be their leader – they already have leaders – but work alongside them, and support them where you can.
  • Help with voter registration activities. Getting Unaffiliated voters to re-register as Democrats and registering  new voters as Democrats is essential particularly in districts with more R’s registered than D’s, but is important in all districts as it helps candidates identify and target potential supporters. NJ throughout the years has had far more registered Unaffiliated voters than either D’s or R’s, which makes it difficult for candidates. This is all the more important in low-turn-out non-presidential years like 2018 when the incumbent can rely on a cadre of Republicans but the new, often not as well known challenger, needs all the registered D’s he or she can get.
  • For challengers it’s important to start a campaign early and be able to devote all your time to the campaign after Jan 1. Too many challengers in the past have maintained their day job often because of low expectations of winning and scant financial resources.
  • Challengers must make serious efforts to corral funds, develop a strong staff, know the competitor’s weaknesses, do polling, listen to constituents, and develop a powerful message as to why voters should support you.
  • Be about more than “the other guy is awful.” If there’s only one lesson you take from 2016, let it be that actually there’s a lot that should be learned from 2016. Make clear what you stand for, what your vision for the district, and the country, is. Not just about the failings of the opponent.
  • Don’t let DCCC take over your race, ditto EMILY’s List. These folks can be very helpful and should be welcomed. Their engagement can be a very hopeful sign. But though we all have a stake in taking Congress back, it’s local people who live in the district who have the best sense of where and how to fight. Don’t let D.C. overwrite this.
  • In NJ just one county party boss, or a small group, or a political boss like George Norcross can sometimes determine which candidate gets the primary party line and the lion-share of its support. Get involved as a local party Democratic Committee member and make your voice heard before the final decision. Different counties set their own rules (and sometimes ignore the rules) so look at their by-laws. As an example here are the bylaws for the Bergen County Democratic Committee.
  • 2018 is different. Take advantage of that. We have a Republican President who polls in the 30’s, a dysfunctional, confused, demoralized and ineffective national Republican Party, Republican laws being past that are anathema to many, a discredited soon-to-be former Republican Governor, and a New Democratic governor who won with a large margin.
  • We should not allow overconfidence to undo the very real hard work needed to overthrow an incumbent. Join a resistant group and attend rallies. Offer to volunteer time to your candidate to  make phone calls, host a party, knock on doors, and/or write a letter to the editor. A donation of any amount helps. An easy step is to call the incumbent Representative, let him or her know you are a voter in the district and state your position on an issue.
  • A simple way to keep track of how an incumbent is voting is go to Vote Smart and enter the name of the Representative.
  • To learn about actionable opportunities to support progressives in your swing district and to get updated emails, go to Swing Left.
  • If you have a preferred candidate among a group of potential primary challengers in a race it’s not too early to get involved now as candidates with an early lead gain traction while others may give up their efforts.
  • In the midst of flipping Republican districts let’s not forget that in the last election, Josh Gottheimer (D) won CD 5 against long-time incumbent ultra-conservative Scott Garrett by only 14,897 votes (4.4%). In this historically Republican stronghold where Democrats are gaining steam Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Cook’s Political Report rate this district as “Lean Democratic,” and Inside Elections and Roll Call rate it as a “Toss-Up.” Let’s support Josh Gottheimer in 2018 and make sure Democrats hold onto this critical seat. His website.

The 2018 Primary is on Tuesday June 5.  But the time to get involved is now.

Feel free to add your own suggestions.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: A marcher attending the Women’s March on Washington holds up a sign encouraging resistance.

All registered voter and election results from NJ Division of Elections: Election Information Archive, except where as otherwise indicated.

Part I in this series provides introductory information and a deep dive into CD 2 where Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo is retiring and the district has more registered Democrats than Republicans. Read it here.

Part II looks at the incumbent Republican Representative Tom MacArthur (CD 3) – he of much wealth but a tarnished reputation in today’s era of Trump decline. Read it here.

Part III takes a dive into CD 4’s long-time incumbent Chris Smith (R), a formidable vote getter, and CD 5’s new incumbent Josh Gottheimer (D), a must-win race who faces a strong challenge from Republicans. Read it here.

Part IV looks at the vulnerable incumbent Representative Leonard Lance in CD 7 where resistance efforts have made an impact, his voting record has been lacking, Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and challengers are gaining steam. Read it here.

Part V: looks at CD 11 where Rodney Frelinghuysen since 1995 has ruled, huing to the will of House Republican leadership and holding no Town Halls in the past 1,609 days, leaving him now with a “Toss Up” district, targeted by the DCCC and rife with resistance. Read it here. 

Comments (7)

  1. Richard Roemer

    Don’t live in the echo chamber of those in your group. Reach outside of the group. For example, locating those who are engaged in on-line games. Recruit them – eliminating Net Neutrality will directly impact their games.

    The older ladies in Ocean County need to know their Social Security, their Medicare, and their taxes are at risk.

    1. Bill Orr (Post author)

      good points.

  2. John

    New Jersey is a very democratic state. Democratic governor, Democratic majorities in both houses, two Democratic senators and a majority of its representatives are Democrats. What else do you want? Everything 100% Democrat, so there will be no dissenting voices. It seems tyranny is what you are after.

    1. Bill Orr (Post author)

      Not “everything is 100% Democrat” nor do I want it that way. Diverse points of view are useful and even Democrats disagree with each other. I do want politicians who have real social concerns, who do not believe in trickle down, who respect civil rights, who are concerned with not just the wealthy, and who listen and respond to their constituents. These are just some of the problems in the stronghold where we seek change. So it’s not so much that I want Democrats as I want representatives who are more worthy of representing us. And I tend to think that in a state with less media than most other states more informed constituents might agree.

  3. ken bank

    So what effect on down ballot candidates will Menendez have if he runs at the top of the ticket? Assuming he is the candidate, the GOP will spend millions to flip the state by reminding voters that Menendez and his “good friend” are about as sleazy as Roy Moore at a Girl Scout camping trip. The question isn’t whether but how much having Menendez at the top of the ticket will hurt down ballot candidates.

    1. Rosi Efthim

      I suspect that is a concern that I suspect Democratic challengers may be more urgently concerned with than Senator Menendez may be right now. But I hope he gives that serious consideration and that it guides the next year, and next decisions, of his political life.

  4. David Karasek

    Can you guys fix your site to be more legible on phones and mobile devices? Check out a web tech called bootstrap, for example tgat creates adaptive web sites.


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