Donald Norcross, a member of a powerful South Jersey political family and a former electrician and union leader, is being challenged in the Democratic primary in the First District, by Alex Law, a young Bernie Sanders supporter who holds a degree in finance and works for IBM.
Norcross was previously a member of the NJ Senate representing District 5. During his time in the Senate, Norcross served as an assistant majority leader and as the chair of the Law and Public Safety Committee. He was first elected to the US House in a special election in 2014 to replace former Rep. Rob Andrews (D) who resigned to work at a law firm. Norcross currently serves as assistant whip and sits on the House Armed Services Committee and the Budget Committee. He has also worked as an electrician and served for 16 years as head of the Southern New Jersey Central Labor Council.
Law graduated from NYU’s Stern Business School in Manhattan with a degree in finance and information systems and was hired to work as a strategy consultant at IBM in the Global Business Services division. He has never held public office.
Law is running on a slate with Camden County freeholder candidates, Mo’Neke Ragsdale, an education activist in Camden, and Steven Kelly, a police officer and former police union president in Barrington.
The district is strongly Democratic, with an unbroken history of Democratic representation dating back to 1975. This primary campaign has been aggressive as challenger newcomer Alex Law — using last year’s primary as a baseline — estimates he only needs 20,000 votes to win. In 2014 state election reports show 18,000 voters cast their ballots for Norcross while his two challengers brought in 7,000 votes together.
Law is running a grassroots campaign targeting what he calls “the Norcross Machine,” represented by incumbent Donald and his brother George, a powerful Democratic Party leader. Law says that Norcross’s term in Congress has been “marked by corruption and political cronyism.” Law was one of the first Congressional candidates to endorse Bernie Sanders for president and is running his campaign in a similar style, with a focus on crowdfunding, small donations, and a strong social media strategy.
Norcross, the incumbent, is taking a more traditional route with most of his funding coming from groups like unions and law firms, Federal Election Commission data shows. Splitting his time between Washington and Camden, Norcross says “campaigning is not community service.” He says he’s attended 14 town hall meetings and walked over 35 towns of the district’s 52 total in addition to his official duties and votes in Washington. “I didn’t wake up one day and decide I wanted to be a congressman, I worked my entire career to get to this point,” Norcross said.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face off against Republican Robert W. Patterson who is running unopposed.
Norcross voted “nay” on H.R. 3461, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The bill, commonly referred to as the “Iran Deal,” would have approved a nuclear agreement with Iran. In a news release following the vote, Norcross wrote “we all know no deal is perfect or iron-clad. I’m not looking for perfection, but I do believe that a better deal can be achieved. We have not exhausted all efforts.”
Law says he supported the “Iran Deal,” saying in a policy statement that the bill “was the best possible solution to maintain long-term and short-term security in the Middle East.”
Norcross co-sponsored the “No Fly, No Buy” house bill (H.R.1076) that would bar individuals on the national “no fly” list from obtaining a gun license. Norcross says the measure is crucial to prevent terrorists from obtaining weapons. “If you’re not allowed to go on our planes, you should not be allowed to have guns,” Norcross says.
Law has publicly come out in opposition to the bill saying that the “no fly” list is an unreliable system and that many on the list have not broken any laws. Law says the measure is “a childish solution to a grownup problem.” He says he supports “sensible gun control reform,” including a federal background check system and elimination of the “gun show loophole.”
As state Senator, Norcross sponsored the 2012 Urban Hope Act, which paved the way for a new fleet of “renaissance” charter schools in Camden including the KIPP school backed by the Norcross Family Foundation and Cooper Health system chaired by Donald’s brother George. Norcross also voted for S. 1177 known as the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” which replaced “No Child Left Behind” and put more control into state hands. Under the ESSA, New Jersey would continue to use the PARCC standardized testing method. Norcross said in a press release that the ESSA “finally gives students and teachers the tools they need to set and achieve their academic goals.”
Law opposed Norcross’ vote saying that the Urban Hope Act supported “Norcross-owned charter schools.” Law’s policy statement says that these charters “are stealing funding and resources from public schools, effectively killing public schools by burdening them with inferior facilities and challenged children.” Law is also against PARCC testing which he says saps schools of resources and encourages “teaching to the test,” instead of active learning.
Norcross says his experience working as an electrician’s apprentice inspired him to sponsor legislation H.R.4508 to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over seven years and give tax credits to businesses that increase pay to workers.
Law has proposed his own alternative plan that would make the change in 4 years and give transitional support in the form of tax incentives to small businesses who may struggle with higher wages which he says Norcross’ plan overlooks.
Norcross introduced legislation in March addressing changes to the Social Security Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA). Norcross wants to change the basis of COLA from the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) to a Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) which excludes costs for goods like toddler apparel and nursery care.
Law agrees that social security needs to be revamped but approaches it through Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan to lift the cap on taxable income to increase the benefits paid out to seniors.