Out: State senator Joe Pennacchio is out, testing the waters to gauge support for the Republican nomination to replace Rodney Frelinghuysen in what is now New Jersey’s second open Republican congressional seat, the 26th District senator has apparently decided there aren’t enough people clamoring to see him move up.
“A little bit fascist”: Pennacchio is the author of a 94-page 1991 document, self-published under the name “Joseph Penn” that even fellow Republicans refer to as a “fascist” document. Among other points, it calls for confining homeless people in military camps. No doubt Pennacchio was itching to explain how his views have matured in the last 27 years and how some of his ideas were misinterpreted. Now, all that moves off the focus of those whose advocacy is firmly fastened on the midterms.
[But seriously read it. The Wayback Machine has it: The Nationalist Agenda, a blueprint for the 21st century, as well as the letter Pennacchio attached to his manifesto to then-Assembly Minority Leader Chuck Haytaian].
Grabby, and maybe a little arrogant: Republicans in Morris County, which comprises the bulk of the district, still consider the 11th a Republican district. And despite the fact that Cook Political Report shifted the 11th from Lean Republican to Toss-Up – 3 months ago, long before Rodney bowed out – they still intend to keep it. You’ve got to admire their pluck, but no, there are powerful forces that will be in their way. First, foremost, is the focus of an unusually-dedicated resistance force in the 11th that coalesces around NJ 11th for Change, which often allies with the Montclair-based Blue Wave. Nobody has input from Frelinghuysen on his personal reasons for stepping down. He is, after all, the most powerful person in the NJ congressional delegation by virtue of his seniority and especially his chairmanship of House Appropriations. It’s a big deal that this particular Republican is giving up on this, his first real strong challenge. The Republicans are taking a hit, even if it’s exciting times for some state-level GOPs who wanna move up the food chain. But back to Rodney, it’s impossible not to give bigly credit to the Fridays Without Frelinghuysen vols who stood outside his office every week for months in all weather, waiting for somebody who wasn’t ever going to come, and those who showed up at town halls that were organized Rodney’s absence (with a life-sized cartoon figure of the congressman standing in), and – especially – Rodney’s unacceptable overreach of power, targeting the job of a constituent organizer of his opposition. But I also don’t want to paint what faced Rodney as merely constituents showing up and calling him out. NJ11th is organized – with town teams, a research branch (doing oppo on Rodney’s possible fill-ins right now), and a lot of smart, admirable people blessedly hyperfocusing. And of course, CD11 is a target-district by DCCC (which is generally a blessing, except when they decide they should pull the strings from D.C.).
Jay Webber – former NJ GOP chair, and a key player in Gov. Christie cutting off funding for women’s health services (Webber handled the sex-is-suspect, poor-women-are-on-their-own part) – may be the beneficiary of Rodney’s exit stage right, and Pennacchio’s decision to walk away. Webber’s the first to officially get in the race after Rodney’s announcement (Martin Hewitt was already in). Webber’s 45 (a leap-year 45), with 7 kids, already has 10 years in the Assembly, backs Trump (a losing idea in most of America, not-so-much in Morris County), and knows how to hurl red meat for his people by talking about the “far left” and resisters like it’s a bad thing.
Reagan Day: I do think the 11th will be an uphill climb. It’s all an uphill climb, but it’s all doable. The D side is electorally-focused, already well-financed, thoughtful, and eager like in no other year in memory, but I don’t know anybody in the 11th who takes anything for granted. The Republicans may hope this seat is theirs, no matter who’s the name on the ballot. Jay Webber’s the founder of New Jersey Reagan Day; personally that’s enough reason for me to join in to flip the 11th blue. And so it goes.
Photo credits – Featured photo of Frelinghuysen: Robert Sciarrino / NJ Advance Media. Jay Webber photo from Twitter