U.S. Congressional Race: District 4

Karen DeMasters | May 22, 2012
In Republican stronghold, former Navy Seal Terrence McGowan takes on dean of NJ delegation, Rep. Chris Smith.

New Jersey may be considered a blue state, but the shore area, part of which is in the 4th Congressional District, is decidedly Republican. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, a Republican, has had a strong hold on the district for three decades.

Still, Terrence McGowan, a former Navy Seal, volunteer firefighter and police officer who worked as a civilian military contractor in the Iraq War, has decided to take on the entrenched incumbent in the June 5 primary.

The district used to stretch across the state from Trenton to Monmouth and Ocean County beach communities, but in last December’s redistricting, the 4th lost its blue-collar towns in Burlington County and the part of Trenton it represented.

Added to the area was a large swatch of Monmouth County, including the affluent Fair Haven, Rumson and Little Silver, and the large and suburban townships of Holmdel, Manalapan, Middletown and Shrewsbury, as well as Tinton Falls. Republicans dominate all of these.

A district that was strongly Republican before became even more so with redistricting. That could make unseating Smith, dean of the New Jersey Congressional delegation, even harder.

GOP presidential candidate John McCain won the district with 52 percent of the vote to 47 percent, and President George Bush made an even better showing for the Republicans four years earlier by taking the district by 56 percent to 44 percent. But Smith seems even more popular. In 2008, under the old district lines, Smith won re-election over the Democratic candidate Joshua Zeitz with two thirds of the vote.

Smith has won re-election by handy margins almost every election since he entered the House of Representatives in 1981.

He is now chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and a member of such caucuses as the Autism Caucus, Spina Bifida Caucus, Lyme Disease Caucus and Pro-life Caucus. He has garnered a reputation as one of the strongest anti-abortion members of the delegation, which goes against the reigning sentiment of New Jersey voters.

Smith also is a staunch supporter of the military and is conservative on most issues. But he crosses party lines with his crusade for human rights.

He has been criticized in almost every election, including this one, for living in Virginia and only maintaining an apartment in Hamilton Township to retain his New Jersey credentials. But he maintains his effectiveness in the lower house overrides the fact that he spends most of his time with his family, near Washington.

McGowan, a resident of Howell Township, says he has become disillusioned by Smith’s attitude toward the job and that the district needs someone who will represent residents. McGowan works with a company that sells software to law enforcement.

Democrat Brian Froelich of Spring Lake is running as a Democrat unopposed in the primary. He will take on the winner of the GOP battle.