New Jersey’s Midterm Congressional Contest Attracts 51 Contenders

Colleen O'Dea | April 3, 2018 | Podcasts, Politics

U.S. Capitol
Energized by two retirements and the strong feelings within New Jersey about the 2016 presidential election, the largest number of candidates in more than a quarter of a century are seeking their parties’ nominations for the U.S. House of Representatives in the June 5 primary.

The 51 candidates seeking to represent the Democratic and Republican parties on the general election ballot for a dozen seats in the lower house of Congress are almost evenly split between the two parties, with 27 Democrats and 24 Republicans having filed by Monday’s deadline. Topping the ballot is the U.S. Senate seat, where Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez got a last-minute challenger and five Republicans filed. There are also four vacant state Assembly seats on the ballot, only one of which — the 36th District straddling Bergen and Passaic counties — is contested.

Political observers said the keen interest in the races is not surprising, given 2018 is a midterm election following a contentious presidential election that put into office a man who is very unpopular in New Jersey.

“We certainly seem to have more competition in this environment than would be expected in a typical midterm,” said Krista Jenkins, director of the Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind opinion poll and a professor of political science.

Given the political activism of a number of groups in the state with names like Swing Left, Indivisible, and Change and the unpopularity of Donald Trump and the Republican agenda in New Jersey, Jenkins said, “This could be something pretty historic.”

Filling the open seats

Not surprisingly, the largest fields of candidates are in the two districts with open seats, the 2nd in South Jersey and 11th in the north. In both, the Republican incumbents, Frank LoBiondo and Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, respectively, recently announced their retirements. Frelinghuysen’s seat in what used to be considered a safely red district centered in Morris County is rated a tossup in three separate national ratings. LoBiondo’s is considered to be leaning Democratic by two of the ratings and a tossup by the third.

These are also the only districts where any of the primaries is likely to be competitive because no one candidate has received the support of all the county parties there, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Elsewhere, the organizational lines will rule the day,” he said.

In New Jersey, primaries tend to be poorly attended — the last time the U.S. Senate topped the balloting in 2014, just 13 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans voted. The people who cast ballots tend to be party stalwarts and most typically vote the party line.

Flipping from red to blue

Both the 2nd and 11th districts are also the ones most likely to flip from red to blue in November, said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University.

“Both districts are gerrymandered to be Republican seats, but demographic changes in the 2nd have made that district somewhat bluer than it was initially configured in 2011,” she said. “The 11th is also Republican, but these voters tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative. While Donald Trump won the district, he did so by less than one percent.”

In the 11th, five Democrats filed, as did five Republicans. Keeping track of the candidates on the Democratic side has been difficult, as the field once numbered seven, then dropped to four, then a last-minute entrant brought it up to five. Frelinghuysen would have had only token opposition, but his decision not to run has prompted a battle among Republicans who have had little time to raise money.

The 11th district GOP nomination battle is primarily between Assemblyman Jay Webber of Morris Plains and Antony Ghee of Totowa. Ghee, an investment banker and major in the Army Reserve, has gotten the party endorsements in Essex and Passaic counties. Republicans in Webber’s home county of Morris do not give a party line, which could leave him at a disadvantage. Also in the race are Patrick Allocco, a Convent Station concert promoter once jailed in Angola when the concert star did not show up to perform for the president; Peter Deneufville, chairman of the board of a Branchburg chemical company and an adjunct senior fellow with a Washington, D.C., think tank focused on security issues; and Martin Hewitt, an attorney and former Democrat who moved from East Brunswick to Morris Township to challenge Frelinghuysen. Hewitt is the only candidate who has reported any fundraising to the Federal Election Commission because he entered the race early. Hewitt had raised close to $8,700 and had $3,900 in the bank as of the end of 2017.

2018 Primary Candidates for Federal Offices
Seat Party Candidate Incumbent Address
Senate D Robert Menendez Yes Harrison
Senate D Lisa Mccormick   Rahway
Senate R Antonio N. Sabas   Irvington
Senate R Bob Hugin   Summit
Senate R Dana Wefer   Wood Ridge
Senate R Brian Goldberg   Livingston
Senate R Mac Truong   Jersey City
1st District D Robert Lee Carlson   Collingswood
1st District D Scot John Tomaszewski   Cherry Hill
1st District D Donald W. Norcross Yes Camden
1st District R Paul E. Dilks   Turnersville
2nd District D Jeff Van Drew   Dennis
2nd District D Tanzira “Tanzie” Youngblood   Swedesboro
2nd District D William Cunningham   Vineland
2nd District D Nate Kleinman   Elmer
2nd District R Brian Fitzherbert   Ocean City
2nd District R Seth Grossman   Atlantic City
2nd District R Samuel Fiocchi   Vineland
2nd District R Robert D. Turkavage   Brigantine
2nd District R Hirsh Singh   Linwood
3rd District D Andy Kim   Marlton
3rd District R Martin B. Weber   Barnegat Twp.
3rd District R Tom Macarthur Yes Toms River
4th District D Joshua Welle   Rumson
4th District D Jim Keady   Spring Lake
4th District R Christopher H. Smith Yes Hamilton
5th District D Josh Gottheimer Yes Ridgewood
5th District R Steven M. Lonegan   Hackensack
5th District R John J. McCann   Hackensack
6th District D Javahn Walker   Somerset
6th District D Frank Pallone Jr. Yes Long Branch
6th District R Richard J. Pezzullo   Freehold
7th District D Peter Jacob   Pluckemin
7th District D Tom Malinowski   Rocky Hill
7th District D Jois Goutam   Summit
7th District R Raafat Barsoom   Annandale
7th District R Lindsay C. Brown   Clark
7th District R Leonard Lance Yes Lebanon
8th District D Albio Sires Yes West New York
8th District R John R. Muniz   Jersey City
9th District D William O. Henry   Paterson
9th District D Bill Pascrell Jr. Yes Paterson
9th District R Eric Fisher   Fort Lee
10th District D Aaron Walter Fraser   Jersey City
10th District D Donald Payne Jr. Yes Newark
10th District R Agha Khan   Jersey City
11th District D Mark Washburne   Mendham
11th District D Mikie Sherrill   Montclair
11th District D Tamara Harris   West Orange
11th District D Alison Heslin   Morristown
11th District D Mitchell Cobert   Morristown
11th District R Jay Webber   Parsippany
11th District R Patrick Allocco   Convent Station
11th District R Antony Ghee   Totowa
11th District R Martin Hewitt   Morristown
11th District R Peter Deneufville   Chatham
12th District D Bonnie Watson Coleman Yes Ewing
12th District R Daryl Kipnis   Somerset

Source: NJ Division of Elections

Candidate to beat

Among the Democrats, the candidate to beat is Mikie Sherrill. Sherrill is a former Navy pilot and former federal prosecutor from Montclair who has won the party line in all four counties. She also has the biggest warchest, with $822,000 on hand after having raised $1.2 million through December 31, 2017. The four other Democrats on the ballot are Tamara Harris, a family advocate from Verona, who had raised $567,000 and had $455,000 in the bank; Mitchell Cobert, a Morristown lawyer with $33,000 on hand; Mark Washburne, a professor of history and political science from Mendham; and Alison Heslin, a Morristown-born research scientist.

In the sprawling 2nd District that is the state’s southernmost and includes all or part of eight counties, four Democrats and five Republicans are running for their parties’ nods to face off in November and replace LoBiondo. State Sen. Jeff Van Drew of Cape May is considered the frontrunner, with about $80,000 in the bank that he raised quickly at the end of last year after LoBiondo announced his retirement. Tanzira “Tanzie” Youngblood, an educator from Woolwich, had gotten into the race earlier in a bid to unseat the incumbent and had about $10,700 on hand. The two other Democrats in the race are William Cunningham, a Vineland man who is a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, and Nate Kleinman, a farmer from Elmer and a political activist who ran for Congress in Pennsylvania in 2012.

On the Republican side, the field of five includes some political veterans. Seth Grossman is a former Atlantic County freeholder and lawyer who is representing an organization suing Atlantic City to try to force it to adopt a balanced budget. Samuel Fiocchi of Vineland is a former Assemblyman who had served with Van Drew when that district had split representation. Hirsh Singh is an Atlantic City native who has worked in the aerospace and defense industries and unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for governor last year. Also on the ballot are Brian Fitzherbert, who splits his time between Somers Point and Maryland, where he works for a company manufacturing air, sea, and weapons systems, and Robert Turkavage, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent living in Brigantine.

Keep an eye on the 7th

The other House race to watch is in the 7th District in Central Jersey, where Republican Rep. Leonard Lance’s usually safe seat has been rated a tossup by The Cook Political Report. His is one of 25 districts across the country with Republican representatives that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Several grassroots groups are working to flip the district and Lance’s offices face weekly protests over topics ranging from healthcare to immigration.

Since facing these protests and other actions by the groups, Lance, a five-term Congressman from Clinton Township, has moved a bit to the left. Unlike past years, when he faced strong opposition from conservatives, Lance’s primary opponents have mixed views. Lindsay Brown, of Clark, calls herself a progressive Republican who participated in the Women’s March the day after the Trump inauguration. Raafat Barsoom of Annandale is an emergency and trauma doctor at Hunterdon Medical Center who emigrated from Egypt and supports Trump. Lance has a sizeable money lead over his opponents, with $608,000 in the bank, compared with Brown’s $2,300 and nothing reported yet by Barsoom.

Earlier this year, seven Democrats were in the race, but the field has been winnowed down to three as organization support coalesced behind Tom Malinowski, an immigrant who served in the U.S. State Department under President Obama and lives in Rocky Hill. Malinowski had raised $528,000 with $446,000 in the bank at the end of 2018. Peter Jacob, a Union social worker who lost to Lance two years ago, had about $27,000 on hand. Goutam Jois, a lawyer, football coach, and standup comedian from Summit, raised $290,000 and had $259,000 in the bank.

Harrison said the fact that the Democratic field of candidates shrank in the 7th as well as the 11th is positive for those who remain in the contest.

“They won’t have to waste time, energy, and most importantly money trying to win a nomination, and for the political parties, it’s better to decide on a consensus candidate because when primaries get nasty, they have the tendency to damage the eventual nominee’s reputation,” she said.

There is a contest on either the Democratic or the Republican side in seven other districts, but none of them is expected to be very close. Only the 8th District in North Jersey represented by Democrat Albio Sires and the 12th in Central Jersey held by Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman have no contested primaries.

After an earlier opponent dropped out, Menendez got a last-minute primary challenge from Lis McCormick, a community news media publisher from Rahway who had considered running for the Democratic gubernatorial nod last year. Despite Menendez’s ethics troubles, she likely faces an uphill battle given the Senator’s strong organizational support and $4.1 million in the bank.

While five Republicans have filed for the Senate nomination, wealthy pharmaceuticals executive Bob Hugin of Summit is considered the frontrunner. The other Republican candidates are Dana Wefer, a lawyer living in Wood-Ridge and former Democrat who had supported Sen. Bernie Sanders for president in 2016; Brian Goldberg, a construction company executive living in West Orange; Antonio N. Sabas, an Irvington man who ran unsuccessfully as an independent in 2014; and Mac Truong of Jersey City.