With just a month to go, what are the key issues in our Senate and House races which candidates are addressing and how do their positions vary? Each race is different depending on a variety of factors. However, there are big issues that span the midterm contests.
One issue which consistently runs through most districts is SALT, included in Trump’s tax law passed last year – a $10,000 cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes. So toxic was this bill considered in our state that both NJ senators and all our representatives voted against it, with the one exception of Tom MacArthur (R) in CD 3. Below you can see the high average of SALT deductions and percentage of tax returns claiming the deduction in each district. This is an issue where Democrats have a potent weapon and should not be shy to use it.
With the “can do” ugly spirit of so many Republican legislators in this era of Trump, the emboldened House last Friday voted to make the tax overhaul, including SALT, permanent. In the process they resurrected a hot-button issue for Democrats, particularly in our close races. Once again all our legislators voted against it with the sole exception of MacArthur.
In the NY Times Nick Corasaniti points out some Republicans are trying to neutralize the issue by saying that they support the tax law, but oppose the SALT cap. Arch-conservative Assemblyman Jay Webber running against Mikie Sherrill (D) in the open seat CD 11, says of the bill, “We should embrace it.” However, he tries to have it both ways, adding that the limit on the SALT deduction was “a bad part in an otherwise good bill.” Mikie Sherrill, wasted no time taking to social media and sending emails announcing that “Washington Republicans are seeking to punish New Jersey taxpayers.”
Tom Malinowski (D) who is challenging incumbent Leonard Lance (R) in CD 7 weaves the tax issue into nearly every speech. Lance has said, “My constituents know I will fight for complete deductibility.” Nonetheless, the issue has become one of the flashpoints in his re-election campaign. (See the preview photo of challenger Tom Malinowski above. Credit:Bryan Anselm for The New York Times.)
In CD 4, as in almost all districts, the long-time incumbent Republican Chris Smith voted against both SALT tax bills. Nonetheless, challenger Josh Welle (D) criticized Smith for not fighting more strongly. He said, “Where was Chris Smith when the SALT deduction was passed?” The fact that a Republican voted against the tax bill should not stop the Democratic candidate from speaking out. Most NJ Republicans liked everything else in the tax bill.
In open seat CD 2 Seth Grossman (R), known for saying “diversity is a bunch of crap,” supports the entire Republican agenda, including the Republican Tax Plan. The conservative Democrat Jeff Van Drew, while not addressing SALT directly, says, “We need tax reform that benefits middle-class families not the multi-millionaires and corporate giants.” Van Drew has little to worry about as his election seems assured.
In CD 5 incumbent Josh Gottheimer (D) is strongly opposed to the SALT provision and is running to retain his seat against John McCann (R). Gottheimer has said about SALT, “It is the No. 1 issue I hear about, and I hear about it from Democrats and Republicans.” Incredibly, McCann has given his support to the bill including SALT despite the high number of district constituents who will suffer the results.
In CD 3 incumbent Trump toady Tom MacArthur (R) was the sole NJ representative to support both bills. Nonetheless, he is particularly vulnerable over the SALT issue. “Taking away state and local deductions, that really hurts people in New Jersey,” said Rich Gilligan of Marlton volunteering for challenger Andy Kim (D). “This is the first time I’ve knocked on doors my entire life,” he added. Following passage of the 2017 law, MacArthur said about the SALT provision “It’s a huge win. And I am now content with that part of the bill.” Kim is trying his hardest to make MacArthur rue what he said and did.
Never mind that the Senate is unlikely to pass the bill, the House’s action last Friday is haunting NJ Republicans. In our quest to flip districts and regain the majority in the U.S. House, Democrats should continue focusing on how the law is hurting New Jersey voters.