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Elections 2014

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Democrats Vie For Chance to Take on Incumbent Republican in 5th District

Conservative Scott Garrett seen as likely to retain seat in district with distinctly ‘red’ hue

Tomorrow’s primary election in the 5th Congressional District is a battle between two Democrats who are fighting to face Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, the most right-wing member of New Jersey’s delegation, in November.

Despite most observers' expectations that the Garden State’s northernmost district will stay “red,” both Democratic contenders -- Roy Cho and Diane Sare -- consider Garrett too conservative for the district and hope to convince voters of that.

Although the district is solidly Republican, it is not that dramatically different from other New Jersey districts after Democratic towns were added to it when the state redistricted due to the 2010 census. The L-shaped district consists of the towns from Warren, Sussex, Passaic, and Bergen counties, with most of the votes for this region concentrated in Bergen County. Both Democratic candidates reside in towns added during this redistricting.

In the past six elections, including the first post-redistricting election in 2012, the voters have elected Garrett, who has a 100 rating from the American Conservative Union. The last Democrat to represent this district was Percy Hamilton Stewart, whose single term ended in 1933.

The Millennial Candidate

roy cho 5th CD
Roy Cho

Cho, 33, is the party's Democratic candidate. A self-described “millennial,” a Hackensack resident, and a lawyer at international commercial law firm Kirkland and Ellis, Cho is taking a sabbatical from his job to run his primary campaign full time. This is his first political campaign as a candidate.

Cho built his platform on three key issues: economy, infrastructure, and education.

He wants to increase manufacturing and alternative-energy jobs; improve transportation and telecom infrastructure; and add national education standards to boost the chances of public school students getting jobs or being admitted to college.

The “American dream” is a theme of his campaign, since it played a role in his early life.

“My parents came to this country in 1982,” said Cho. “They were Korean immigrants with the American dream.”

Cho grew up in Freehold, New Jersey, attending public schools. He went on to study political science at Brown University. After graduating, he entered a career of public service that includes the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, working as an aide to former governor Jim McGreevey, and as a correspondence director in Congress. Cho attended Georgetown University Law Center. He moved back to New Jersey when he took his first private-sector job on advice from his mentors.

Cho's April 2014 campaign finance report shows that he has received more than $430,000 over the course of his campaign. Contributors range from individuals to Amtrak. The campaign also secured $40,000 funding in the form of loans from TD Bank and Wells Fargo.

The LaRouche organizer

diane sare 5th CD
Diane Sare

Cho’s primary rival is political organizer Sare, 49. She is a resident of Bogota, where she lives with her husband Christopher Sare, a fellow political organizer. She calls herself a “LaRouche Democrat”

Her campaign platform includes many key aspects of the political philosophy, including reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, a defunct law that prohibited banks from investment banking practices, promoting music and science education, and impeaching President Barack Obama, whom she sees as overstepping the boundaries of the presidency.

Sare was first exposed to the LaRouche philosophy while she was still a student at New England Conservatory, where she studied music education and trombone performance. A random run-in at Boston’s Logan airport with campaigners set her in the direction of a follower. In her political career as a LaRouche campaign organizer, her passion for music has continued. She ran adult and children’s choirs in both New Jersey and in Washington, D.C. Anyone who works with her gets drafted into a choir too. For her, music is a part of politics.

“I consider everything political. There is no outside of politics,” said Sare.

Sare has received no endorsements from local Democrats, but said she is optimistic about her campaign. She maintains a social media presence and is actively campaigning.

This is Sare’s second attempt to secure the Democratic nomination, following an unsuccessful bid in 2012. Last time her campaign raised and spent just under $50,000 total. About 10 percent of Democratic voters cast a ballot for her in that primary. The 2012 Democratic winner, Adam Gussen, went on to lose the general election to Garrett by more than 37,000 votes. She also ran for New Jersey governor as an independent in 2013. So far, she has filed no campaign documents with the Federal Election Commission, which is acceptable for any candidate who has neither received nor spent $5,000 in a campaign. In all of her campaigns, Sare has established herself as an alternative to more mainstream candidates.

These two very different candidates may share one goal, which is to win the Democratic nomination in the primary next week. The winner gets no rest. The race against the incumbent Garrett begins after securing the nomination.

“Garrett is the clear favorite barring any shocking revelations,” Patrick Murray of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Jess Scanlon is a freelance writer who covers politics and other issues.

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