Democrats are making a run at a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and they are looking at New Jersey as a firewall, with the state likely to add at least two seats to its seven-to-five majority, with two others in play.
All three of the major ratings groups, including the Cook Political Report, list six of seven Democratic incumbents as either safe or solid, which means there is only a slim chance that the incumbents will lose. The seventh Democratic seat, held by one-term Rep. Josh Gottheimer in the 5th district, is listed as likely Democratic, or “not considered competitive at this point.”
FiveThirtyEight lists the six districts — 1, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 12 — as solidly Democratic and gives each incumbent a better than 99 in 100 chance of winning next week. It lists the 5th as solidly Democratic, as well, but gives Gottheimer only a 19 in 20 chance of winning.
Smith is lone NJ Republican considered safe
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, who represents the 4th district, is the only incumbent Republican in New Jersey whose seat is seen by the ratings groups as safe.
Patrick Murray, executive director of the Monmouth Polling Institute, says New Jersey leans Democratic but has never been extreme ideologically. Its congressional delegation has long been relatively balanced, and Republicans have been able to win the governorship on a somewhat regular basis.
The fundamentals this year appear to favor the Democrats, partly because Republicans control the White House and partly because specific issues have been dominating the conversation — most notably healthcare, which has favored the Democrats.
As for the safe districts, they are considered safe for several reasons — incumbency, a lack of name recognition for challengers, money, and registration, which all favor Democrats.
What follows are overviews of the six “safe” Democratic seats. Most of the information comes from congressional websites or the candidates’ websites. Financial information comes from the Federal Election Commission and registration figures are from the New Jersey Department of State.
Incumbent: Donald Norcross, 59, Democrat. Norcross is completing his second term in the House, after serving four years in the state Legislature as both Assemblyman and Senator. He is an electrician and former labor union leader in the building trades.
Challenger: Paul Dilks, Republican. Dilks is a former radio host who lives in Washington Township.
District geography: The district covers parts of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester counties.
Registration: 512,548 total, with 229,528 Democrats and 83,605 Republicans.
Fundraising: Norcross has raised $1.75 million through September 30 and spent $1.2 million. Dilks has raised $6,580 and spent $5,107.
Main issues: Norcross, the brother of South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, is seeking his third term in the House. The district has been in Democratic hands since Jim Florio won election in 1974.
Norcross, who has outraised the political novice Dilks by a 266-to-1 margin, supports a $15-an-hour minimum wage and a ban on gun purchases by those on the federal “no-fly” list. He supports comprehensive immigration reform modeled on the 2015 legislation that passed in the House and he has been critical of the Trump administration’s dismantling of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and curtailing of temporary protected status for immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti.
Dilks opposes most gun-control measures, proposes a minimum 10-year path to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers, who would be required to pay a set of fees that could finance a border wall.
Incumbent: Frank Pallone, Democrat. Pallone is completing his 30th year in Congress, 26 of them representing the 6th District. A former Long Branch City councilman, he is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is considered one of the biggest supporters of environmental initiatives in the House.
Challenger: Richard Pezzullo, Republican. Pezzullo is a conservative, who has worked with the United Taxpayers of New Jersey. He consults on technology issues for business.
District geography: Parts of Middlesex and Monmouth counties.
Registration: 451,138 total, with 178,932 Democrats and 73,008 Republicans.
Fundraising: Pallone has raised $2.3 million through September 30 and spent $1.2 million. Pezzullo has raised $96,720 and spent $26,076.
Main issues: The 6th district is overwhelmingly Democratic, both in registration and the political make-up of local governments, the vast majority of which are in Democratic hands. Pallone was first elected in the 3rd district in 1988, but was redistributed to the 6th four years later.
Pallone touts his record on environmental and health issues, which include sponsoring the original Children’s Health Insurance Program, several clean-water bills and chemical safety legislation. He also supports modernizing the state’s infrastructure. Pallone was a key supporter of the Affordable Care Act, opposes ocean drilling, and opposes efforts to gut Social Security and Medicare.
Pezzullo supports “full repeal” of the Affordable Care Act and a scaling back of most public welfare programs. He opposes “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and supports a sponsorship system for immigration. He opposes government spending to address “alleged ‘Global Warming.’” He is pro-life and opposes new restrictions on gun ownership.
Incumbent: Albio Sires, Democrat. Sires was born in Cuba and served as mayor of West New York and speaker of the General Assembly, before being elected to the House of Representatives in 2006. He is a former teacher and business owner.
Challenger: John Muniz, Republican. Muniz has been the senior pastor at Second Reformed Church in Jersey City for 26 years and serves as area command chaplain/captain for the 88th Brigade of the New York Guard.
Also on the ballot: Dan Delaney, Mahmoud Mahmoud.
District geography: It encompasses parts of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union counties.
Registration: 383,970 total, with 209,140 Democrats and 34,546 Republicans.
Fundraising: Sires has raised $349,251 through September 30 and spent $390,046. Muniz has raised $1,050 and spent $829.
Main issues: Sires was first elected to the now defunct 13th District in 2006, and has collected at least 75 percent of the vote in each of his last six races. He supports comprehensive immigration reform, which won him the endorsement of the Latino Action Network. He also supports developing a national manufacturing strategy.
Muniz is a political novice, who is calling for a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, and for tougher border security. He supports lower taxes to put more money in the hands of consumers and businesses.
Incumbent: Bill Pascrell, Democrat. Pascrell was elected to the House in 1996 after serving as mayor of Paterson and as a member of the state Assembly. He serves on the House Ways and Means Committee. He was a high school history teacher.
Challenger: Eric Fisher, Republican. Fisher ran and lost a primary bid for the Assembly in District 37.
Also on the ballot: Claudio Belusic.
District geography: Parts of Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic counties.
Registration: 439,306 total, of which 190,068 are Democrats and 63,587 are Republicans.
Fundraising: Pascrell has raised $1.47 million and spent $1.16 million, as of September 30. Fisher has not filed any fundraising reports.
Main issues: Pascrell opposed the Republican tax cut and supports a $15-an-hour minimum wage, which he says will put money in workers’ pockets and stimulate the economy. He also supports immigration reform that would allow the undocumented to “come out of the shadows,” along with a commitment to infrastructure work. He also opposes efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Fisher has a campaign Facebook page that focuses most of its attention on the Hugin for Governor campaign.
Incumbent: Donald Payne Jr., Democrat. Payne, 60, was appointed to the seat in 2012, after his father Donald Payne Sr. died. He won in each of the three elections that have followed. Payne is a lifelong resident of Newark and became involved in politics when he helped found the Newark South Ward Democrats. He is ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, and serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Challenger: Agha Khan, Republican. Khan, 70, was born in Pakistan and came to the United States in 1976. He works in real estate and management and serves as the president of the American Muslim Foundation New Jersey, was deputy mayor of Jersey City from 2002 to 2004, and was a commissioner for the Jersey City Development Corporation.
Also on the ballot: Scott Diroma, Cynthia Johnson, Joanne Miller.
District geography: Parts of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties.
Registration: 457,777 total, with 264,782 Democrats and 25,247 Republicans.
Fundraising: Payne has raised $481,059 and spent $462,614 through September 30. Khan has not filed a fundraising report.
Main issues: Payne’s father, Donald Sr., served in Congress from 1989 until his death in 2012. He was considered one of the most liberal members of the House, a mantle his son has taken up. Payne Jr. gets high grades from most liberal rating organizations and was ranked by GovTrack as the 27th most liberal member of the House.
He is a supporter of the Gateway Project, linking New Jersey and New York and used his position on the transportation committee to help secure $900 million for the project. He supports the Affordable Care Act, and opposes the Trump administration’s immigration agenda. He believes the nation needs to move to green energy, upgrade its power grid, and reduce dependency on foreign oil.
Khan says “tax dollars should not be spent frivolously when national debt stands at an all time high.” In general, he says he believes free markets can address most problems — as in healthcare, where he says “competition drives down cost for the patients and encourages medical research.” He supports renewable energy development, school choice, and expanded technical education. Small businesses, he says, should be the focus of economic growth.
Incumbent: Bonnie Watson Coleman, Democrat. Watson, 73, is a Ewing resident and was first elected to Congress in 2016, becoming the first African-American woman to represent New Jersey. Before that, she spent 17 years in the state Assembly, serving as majority leader from 2006 to 2010, and as chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee from 2002 to 2006. She is vice ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee and is on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Challenger: Daryl Kipnis, Republican. Kipnis is an attorney from Franklin Township.
District geography: Parts of Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties.
Registration: 479,778 total, with 205,104 Democrats and 74,678 Republicans.
Fundraising: Watson Coleman has raised $807,630 and spent $593,105 as of September 30. Kipnis has raised $21,258 and spent $19,709.
Main issues: Watson Coleman is the daughter of Assemblyman John S. Watson, and has made criminal-justice reform and gun control central issues. Prior to her election as Representative for New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District, she served eight consecutive terms in the New Jersey General Assembly. She supports the Affordable Care Act and wants to see Congress expand the law’s reach to cover those not currently covered.
Watson Coleman is for immigration reform that “support people seeking freedom, security, and access,” and includes in that amnesty for some undocumented immigrants. She has been vocal in her opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration plans and efforts by Republicans to defund the deferred action program for younger immigrants. She supports marriage equality, anti-discrimination efforts, and expanded voting rights.
Kipnis says he plans to be “the foremost advocate for individual liberty in New Jersey’s congressional delegation by supporting the freedoms of speech, religion and expression.” He is a supporter of gun rights, and an “individual’s right to medical freedom.” He supports legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S., especially the so-called Dreamers who came here as children, and also wants a streamlined citizenship process. Kipnis supports making it easier for those carrying student debt to declare bankruptcy, and wants to see government cut unnecessary spending and regulations.