Midterms: The NJ blue centrist wave

“New Jersey was certainly a blue wave for middle of the road centrist Democrats.” – Matthew Hale, professor of political science professor, Seton Hall University.

It’s difficult to flip districts long-held by an incumbent or where a single party for years has been controlling the seat. Such was the case in CD 4 against a 19-term Republican incumbent in a district with 19,000 more R’s than D’s. In other districts where we won voter registration was more Republican or with Democrats holding a small edge. Trump had won in 2016 in all districts except for CD 7. So it’s no surprise the winning candidates espoused centrist positions. 

We can be grateful that the final results cemented 11 of 12 Democratic districts. See above the lone remaining Republican District 5. However, it was tough going, the final election results in many cases were close, and holding all these seats in 2020 will be easier said than done.  

Groups like NJ 11th for Change, Blue Wave NJ, New Jersey Citizen Action and NJ 7 Forward started early and mobilized concerned citizens into activists. The left was fired up and there were a number of pre-primary progressives wanting to join the fray, but local political leaders opted for more centrist candidates. In the end we did not get the more full-throated progressives like an Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Our candidates were more in tune supporting and strengthening our current healthcare system than urging “Medicare For All.” They were opposed to most of Trump’s immigration policies but were not demanding that ICE be abolished. They were not insisting that Trump be impeached, they selectively picked the most broadly supported gun control proposals, and some were content with keeping Nancy Pelosi as their leader. Nonetheless, the centrists brought home an exciting win. 

Matthew Hale says that Mikei Sherrill (CD 11) and Josh Gottheimer (D incumbent in CD 5) “are exactly the type of centrist Democrats that can — and given demographic shifts — should hold their seats for quite some time.” Each won with a large margin, but each is less progressive than most of our current Democratic representatives. Gottheimer prides himself with his dream: “A coalition of middle-ground moderates, exerting control of the House of Representatives, pushing the fringe elements of both parties.” Sherrill, in a district where there are 6,000 more registered R’s than D’s, seems unlikely to stray too far into progressive territory.

Tom Malinowski (CD 7) and Andy Kim (CD 4)  won with a slim margin. Conservative Jeff Van Drew (CD 2) won with a much lower margin than anticipated against a gross man who supports Trump and disparages minorities. For these candidates hewing more toward the “middle ground” will seem necessary to protect their flanks. After becoming incumbents they may feel safer in their seats. However, in the delegation as a whole there is likely to be less unanimity than what we have seen in past years among our more progressive Democratic incumbents.

Progressives have no reason to despair. We prevented Bob Hugin (R) from taking over the seat of incumbent Bob Menendez (D). Picking up four House Democratic seats is a record-breaking achievement for which we can be proud. With our group of freshmen representatives we can expect them to push back against Trump’s more awful policies, to support vigorously more priorities important for our state like Gateway and to generate a more positive voting record than their predecessors. Having these seats already in Democratic hands may even open up the possibility of adding a more progressive candidate in one or more districts. Also with Trump’s continuing obnoxious speeches, tweets and policies, we can only gain more adherents to our party. 

Sarah Churchwell in her new book BEHOLD, AMERICA, says, “America first” might never shed the stain of virulent racism and anti-Semitism, but the “American dream” has a real and discernible meaning. “The American dream” emerged in the late 19th century, when the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era. Today this dream is an endangered ethos. However, If history is  a guide, the Gilded Age now epitomized by Trump’s cupidity might soon evolve into a new Progressive Era – the “American dream” – all but synonymous with social democracy.

Comments (5)

  1. Bertin Lefkovic

    While I agree that it is great that Democrats won 11 out of 12 seats in 2018, progressives should be prepared to hold their feet to the fire like we didn’t with John Adler after he won in 2008 and Josh Gottheimer when he won in 2016.

    There should be competitive primary elections at every level of government and in every part of our state and every state year-in and year-out, because that is how we can best ensure that our elected officials are serving the interests of their constituents and not their donors or party leaders.

    Kim, Malinowski, Sherrill, and especially Van Drew should not get a free pass in 2020, because they will be defending competitive seats in 2020 and turnout is likely to be even higher than it was in 2018.

    The Democratic establishment will always tell us that primary elections puts our incumbents at risk, because it forces them to spend money and take positions that they might not otherwise take. If that is true, so be it.

    But I don’t believe that it is true. If these candidates want to be centrists, they should be proud centrists and welcome primary challenges from their left.

    By contrast, such a challenge should burnish their centrist credentials in the eyes of the voters and if a centrist candidate is what the Democrats in their districts want, let them make that decision.

    Primary elections also create an opportunity for incumbents, especially in competitive districts to begin organizing their supporters and putting them out in the field earlier and if the primary election is run fairly (a big if here in NJ), the winner should receive the full-throated support of all Democrats regardless of the outcome of the race.

    Thus, I hope that Nate Kleinman or Tanzie Youngblood has the chance to take on Van Drew, one on one, in two years. I would also love to see all of our Democratic congresspersons (and our soon-to-be absentee Democratic Senator) in NJ face credible primary election challenges.

    I believe that in both the short and long runs, it would be good for both our party and state for voters to become more accustomed to voting in primary elections. We had very good turnouts by comparison to past years in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Hopefully, we will be able to continue that trend in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

  2. Babs

    They won in right leaning districts a d resonated with the actual community! A huge move to the left! Get real folks as Democrats must be a big tent to succeed!

    1. Bertin Lefkovic

      We also need to have competitive primary elections in our state, Babs, where rank-and-file Democrats feel that they have a choice and their vote matters. This will enlarge our tent instead by retaining progressives, especially in tougher districts, instead of hemorrhaging them to the Green Party.

      We also need to hold our electeds’ collective feet to the fire to keep them from casting bad votes like Gottheimer has over the past two years and John Adler did when represented CD3. Knowing that they will have to face a primary election challenge in 2020 will hopefully make that less likely.

      Were you getting “real” and thinking about making the Democratic Party “a big tent” when you were fighting for a trans-inclusive ENDA instead of the trans-exclusive ENDA that people like Barney Frank wanted, Babs, and possibly could have passed sooner? Your adversaries on this issues would probably have described your position as a “huge move to the left”.

      However, your allies recognized that the LGBTQ community is stronger if it remains united and achieves progress together rather than allows itself to be divided and only achieves progress selectively and at a pace determined by select parts of the whole. The same is true for the progressive community in particular and the Democratic Party in general.

      However, that can only happen if we are honest with each other, uplift each others voices instead of trying to tamp them down, and speak truth to power. Why is it OK for you to speak truth to power on your issues of concern, but not others on theirs?

  3. Dvd Avins

    I remember the centrist ratings that Frank Pallone received in his first few terms. I don’t think we know where the fresh congresspeople will end up in several terms, if they survive into the next redistricting.

    I wouldn’t rule out supporting a primary challenge to one of them in 2020 if they are sufficiently useless. But I think 2022 or 2024 would probably be better times to give then a final exam. In 2022, they will face new voters with who they won’t have an incumbency advantage. In 2024, they will or will not have adapted their postures to those new voters. and we’ll (like 2020) have a wider primary electorate. The wider electorate may not matter in some districts, but where Democratic organizations are strong in municipalities and counties, the wider electorate dilutes the influence of those organizations.

  4. John Valentine

    The work is just beginning. Voters need to rememberjust because you voted someone in doesnt mean voter responsibility is over. No, the voters need to take an active part in legislation and remind those elected who the boss really is.
    There is all this talk that we need a third party, we just proved there is a 3rd party, it may not look like what we are used to but there is a 3rd party, its always been there it’s the Middle Class.


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