U.S. Congressional Race: District 1

Tara Nurin | May 23, 2012
Federal probe, challenger Francis Tenaglio not expected to derail Rep. Rob Andrews, the Dems' perennial winner

New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District is reliably Democratic, so the winner of the June primary will be the clear favorite to win in November.

For the last 20 years, that winner has been U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews of Haddon Heights. This time around, his primary challenger is Francis Tenaglio of Haddon Township. And he’s facing a Federal Elections Commission investigation into a complaint charging him with misuse of campaign funds.

The South Jersey Democratic establishment is not too worried about the challenge.

“The general expectation is that Rob Andrews will win any time he’s on the ballot,” said Ingrid Reed, former NJ Project Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. “He usually gets primary challengers but it’s not something that the party’s endorsing. He’s always won by around 70 percent of the vote.”

The 1st District is about 98 percent urban, covering most of Camden County, the northern and western half of Gloucester County and two slivers of Burlington County. It became even more solidly Democratic after last year’s redistricting. In what observers call an attempt to boost Republican candidates in the third district, socially liberal Cherry Hill was transferred out of District 3 and into the 1st.

While the move isn’t expected to influence the outcome of this year’s elections, The Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman believes “Cherry Hill’s addition to the 1st District could make for an interesting race when Andrews decides to leave. There are lots of ambitious Democrats there.”

Cherry Hill is just one addition to a district containing many white-collar communities that both feed working professionals into Philadelphia and contribute to the growth of South Jersey’s high-tech economy. Thanks to municipalities like Haddonfield, Maple Shade, Voorhees and Woodbury, one-third of the population holds a college degree or higher, and the average home value is more than $222,000.

But the district also derives much of its Democratic heritage from its working- and lower-class voters. The post-industrial cities of Gloucester and Camden — with its heavy concentration of Latinos and African-Americans — are its population centers, and a panoply of union-friendly former and current labor towns dot its western edge along the Delaware River.

“The urban agenda in Camden really shaped that district,” said Reed. “Originally much of its population was comprised of lower income unionized factory workers and those who manned all the shipyards.”

The inner-ring suburbs that border Camden and Gloucester are also renewing the district’s Democratization. Aging towns like Collingswood and Haddon Township are experiencing an influx of younger inhabitants who seek out homes in high-density municipalities with thriving downtowns and easy access to public transit.

Even without all these factors, Andrews’ chances for re-election would still high.

For one thing, he’d raised $689,183 and had $328,156 on hand as of March 31, while no FEC reports were available for Tenaglio.

But John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute for Politics at Rutgers University, said it’s a very good year to be an incumbent.

The redistricted map of the state has created 12 districts that are likely to elect the incumbent party, he said, and long-shot challengers have a lesser chance of victory early in the decade.

Still, Andrews’ opponent is hopeful. Tenaglio, a retired Philadelphia social studies teacher who held office in the Pennsylvania General Assembly for one year in the 1970s, has been something of a perennial candidate in New Jersey, and so far unsuccessful. He ran for governor in the Democratic primary of 2005 and took less than 4 percent in the primary won by Gov. Jon Corzine.

The GOP primary is uncontested, with Greg Horton, who sought a state seat last year, the only Republican to file.

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