“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.