Scott Garrett, first elected in 2002, is in his seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives. From 1990 to 2002, he represented the 24th District in the New Jersey General Assembly. He worked for an insurance company and in private-practice law before being elected to Congress.
Michael J. Cino first ran for this seat in 2002 as an independent. He returned to challenge Garrett in 2006, as a Republican, and again in 2012. Cino is in the wholesale gasoline business.
A political newcomer, Peter Vallorosi works in real estate and land development “on a small scale.” Previously he worked in his family vending-machine business, which ran into difficulties before closing in 2008. It was “a sign of the times,” he says, when he declared bankruptcy in 2012.
Garrett is one of the most conservative members in Congress, provoking outrage regularly among opinion-writers, Democrats, and some Republicans for his positions on issues from gay marriage to abortion, from his slowness to support Hurricane Sandy aid, to his readiness to open the Jersey shore to oil drilling.
Although he has won reelection comfortably every time, it is a biennial ritual of New Jersey politics to say that Garrett’s Democratic opponent is his toughest ever, one that might beat him in the solidly Republican 5th District. This time gay rights, campaign finance, and financial institutions have converged to buoy Democrats’ hopes for their latest candidate, Josh Gottheimer, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and Microsoft executive.
As chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises, Garrett has benefitted handsomely over the years from Wall Street, thus his impressive war chest. Those contributions have slowed considerably since a controversy over anti-gay remarks he made to a Republican party committee last summer; Garrett belatedly disputed the nuance of those remarks. Gottheimer is pulling in campaign contributions at a fast enough clip that he might match Garrett’s funding before the general election is over. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has listed this contest as one of its “red-to-blue” targets.
As the general election campaign ratchets up, the Republican primary redefines the meaning of low-key. Cino and Vallorosi have little or no money and no obvious traction. A candidates’ forum on Sunday, May 22, organized by Cino, showed how daunting is their challenge: the event at Celine’s Bistro, in Garrett’s backyard, drew 12 people — including Cino, Vallorosi and the barman.
Garrett says his priorities center on “security in every sense of the word”: national, economic, and job security; he wants also to “restore fiscal responsibility” and halt “the size and growth of government.” For Cino, it’s all about jobs, the economy, and “supporting President Trump.” Vallorosi wants to “stop reckless spending … create jobs … and take back our country!”
With the candidates agreeing in broad conservative outline on many issues, what is the challengers’ rationale for running? Self-described “pissed-off patriot” Vallorosi, says, “I voted for Scott Garrett probably five times. His voting record and how he feels on the issues isn’t the point. He’s a failure on everything we agree on.” Cino, an “anti-establishment Republican,” says, “Garrett is running for his 15th and 16th years in Congress and he was in Trenton for years before that, but he doesn’t get anything done.”
Cino and Vallorosi echo Garrett’s criticism of “out-of-control government spending.” Vallorosi wants to abolish the Federal Reserve, the IRS, the EPA, as well as the departments of Education, Energy, and Transportation. Cino wants to renegotiate “terrible, traitorous trade deals” and remake New Jersey as a low-tax state.
“Get in, do your job, get out” should be the watchword, says Vallorosi, who supports term limits, including five two-year terms for those in the House of Representatives. Garrett is in his 27th year in political office.
“Cino believes “excessive campaign contributions have come to dominate the political process.” Vallorosi agrees that “we’ve got to get money out of politics.” One of his slogans is “Together let’s put an end to the Career Politician.”
Garrett, anti-Obamacare, talks about “Washington bureaucrats … controlling your healthcare future.” Cino, who strays occasionally from conservative orthodoxy, wants a law that would give Medicare rates for doctor and hospital costs to people who have no health insurance.
Cino favors “limiting or freezing property taxes for senior citizens on fixed incomes.”
Comparing candidates’ campaign funding
In the first quarter of 2016, Garrett raised $255,500; his balance on March 31 was $2.5 million. In the same period, Cino raised $4,103 and had $70 on hand at the end of March. As for Vallorosi’s funding, he says, “I got zero.”
Gottheimer outraised Garrett significantly in the first quarter of 2016; he brought in $602,447 and had a total of $1.7 million on hand at the end of March.