New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District race has drawn national attention and in its final days it’s still inhaling huge sums of cash, generating television ad spots, and provoking general election anxiety.
Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, has pulled slightly ahead of Republican Assemblyman and lawyer Jay Webber in a district that has been reliably Republican since the mid-1980s. The retirement of 12-term Republican, Rodney Frelinghuysen created a vacuum the Democrats are determined to fill. But the GOP has pulled in some of its most notable names — including President Donald Trump himself — on behalf of Webber.
Indeed, a lot of the money and influence surging into the state is coming from the outside. As NJ Spotlight’s Colleen O’Dea reported, the Congressional Leadership Fund, aligned with current GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan who also has taken to the campaign trail for Webber, has spent more than $4.5 million in the state. That’s the most from an outside group in New Jersey. However, it is notable that the CLF has not contributed financially to the District 11 race. Outside spending for Webber is largely coming from the conservative Heritage Action for America PAC. Nevertheless, the Democrats have been dominating the fundraising portion of the battle in this district. The biggest outside spenders in the district were the Independence USA PAC, the House Majority PAC, and With Honor Fund all in support of Sherrill.
Sherrill has raised way more money
According to Federal Election Commission reports, Sherrill has raised $7,654,107 and has $1,730,518 cash on hand while Webber has raised $1,388,799 and has only $113,876 on hand. In fact, Sherrill has raised the most money of any New Jersey House candidate this year and has made her way into 14th place in the nation among all House candidates for fundraising. Even as the days ticked down, the money continued to pour in: $632,000 of Sherrill’s total was raised between October 1 and October 17.
But despite far outraising Webber, Sherrill has not managed to put significant distance between herself and her opponent.
The most recent Monmouth University Poll shows little change since June: Sherrill holds a 48 percent to 44 percent lead over Webber among likely voters, with six percent undecided and 1 percent supporting another candidate. A New York Times/ Siena College poll also has Sherrill ahead, 49 percent to 38 percent.
FiveThirtyEight gives the Democrat a five in six chance of taking the seat with an expected turnout of 284,000 out of an estimated 550,000 eligible voters; that would represent a turnout of 51.6 percent. But turnout in this district, especially during midterms, historically has been low. Data collected by the Center for Government Services at Rutgers shows that in 2014, only 37 percent of registered voters in the district voted. This year however, pollsters expect a surge of voters motivated less by support for the policy positions of their preferred candidate, and more by abhorrence for the opposing candidate.
Nowhere to hide from the ads
Residents of the 11th district have been bombarded with ads for and against both candidates and those are only expected to ramp up over the weekend before Tuesday’s election.
Michael Bloomberg, the former Republican mayor of New York City, donated $1.87 million through the Independence USA PAC for ad buys in support of Sherrill to run from Saturday up until election day. The Democrats’ House Majority PAC has also been running a series of ads depicting Webber as a “caveman” for his votes against the equal pay bill in the state Legislature and his support for the federal GOP tax bill.
On the whole, Sherrill’s ads emphasize her military service and hit opponent Webber on his voting record. In addition to the equal pay and tax bills, they home in on the Republican’s votes against prohibiting gay conversion therapy for teenagers and his pro-life stance.
There’s been controversy too
Webber’s ads focus on his role as a father and husband and tag his opponent with the nickname “Montclair Mikie” — a nod to her previous residency in the part of the liberal town located in the 10th Congressional District. She has since moved into the 11th District section. Ads like “Mikie Sherrill — A Pelosi Democrat” highlight Webber’s attempts to link Sherrill to Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Bob Menendez.
This race has not been without controversy.
During the same week that pipe bombs were mailed to prominent Democratic politicians and CNN offices in New York City, an envelope containing a threatening letter against Webber and his seven children along with a cut-up “Webber for Congress” sign was sent to the Republican’s office. Both candidates denounced the threatening message, but Webber raised eyebrows by using the event as a catalyst for soliciting donations.
Ultimately, despite national attention, the outcome of this race is going to come down to whichever candidate can get their base to the polls on Tuesday.