Everything’s clicking into place for the growing movement to replace Rodney Frelinghuysen, Republican House member for 22 years, and member of a dynastic political family stretching back to the American Revolution, whose mother is an heir to the Procter & Gamble fortune. Rodney, the walking, talking one-percent, and as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, the most powerful member of the NJ delegation.
Today, Cook Political Reports shifted NJ11 from Lean Republican to Toss Up. That’s huge. I’d say watch the money coming in now, but it’s already been flowing (we see you, Mikie Sherrill). DCCC has had CD11 targeted since their first round, putting Frelinghuysen on notice along with Frank LoBiondo (CD2), Tom MacArthur (CD3) and Leonard Lance’s CD7. But then, Frelinghuysen, the very definition of comfortably entrenched, went after local bank board member Saily Avelenda, letting his personal distaste become public in much the same way Scott Garrett did, ramping up opposition against him and letting even sleepy voters know what kind of guy they’d been sending to the House all those years. And Saily is not just somebody organizing against him, she’s a leader of NJ 11th for Change, the well-organized, super-creative groundswell which has been dogging Rodney for months. And today’s her birthday.
NJ-11: Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) – North central: most of Morris County
Toss Up. Frelinghuysen has waited 22 years to chair the House Appropriations Committee, but now that he’s there, he finds himself in the toughest race of his career. His once-safe Republican Morris County seat, dominated by suburban professionals, is rapidly moving away from the GOP: it voted for Trump by less than a point in 2016 and was the only GOP-held seat in North Jersey to vote for Democrat Phil Murphy for governor in 2017.
More troubling for Republicans, Frelinghuysen looks unprepared for his first real race in decades. In May, he drew an official ethics complaint after sending an intimidating note to a board member of a local bank warning that one of his high-level employees was a “ring leader” of an anti-Trump activist group [meaning NJ 11th for Change – Rosi] in his district. The unforced error was reminiscent of those of former GOP Rep. Scott Garrett, who went on to lose the neighboring 5th CD in 2016.
The leading Democrat is former Navy helicopter pilot-turned-federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill, who is running with EMILY’s List’s endorsement. Republicans have panned Sherrill for living just outside the district before running, but her resume may be difficult to attack. Sherill raised $442,000 last quarter. Meanwhile, despite his Appropriations perch, Frelinghuysen raised just $154,000, far lower than an average freshman incumbent readying for a fight.
More recently, Frelinghuysen was the only member of the New Jersey delegation to vote in favor of advancing a tax reform bill that would have cut the state and local tax exemption, potentially handing Democrats another line of attack in one of the most highly-taxed districts in the country. Despite ultimately voting against the entire package, Frelinghuysen’s behavior and voting record are making some Garden State pundits wonder if he intends to run at all.