Bonnie Somer and Michael Cino, Bergen County Republicans, know they have a near-impossible task ahead of them as they attempt to unseat Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett in the June 5 primary.
Garrett is a five-term incumbent in a GOP-leaning district who, at the end of March, had more than $1.8 million cash on hand to defend his seat in District 5.
“The fact is that to actually run for office, unless you’re backed by the party … it’s very difficult to do that,” said Somer, 59, of River Edge.
“I have mailers that I have been sending out myself. … I’m a very realistic person,” she said. “What I am trying to do is tell people, ‘Look, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m going to be straightforward and honest. And if you want to just keep re-electing the same people to office and expect to get any changes, you’re wrong.’”
Cino, 48, Demarest, also conceded the long odds of trying to unseat Garrett, who was first elected to the House in 2002.
“It’s very tough,” he said. “The system of government we have, the incumbents have so many advantages -- money. I’m running against the big bank lobby.”
Cino was referring to the major contributors to Garrett’s campaign, which, according to The Center for Responsive Politics, were from the securities and investment ($255,950), insurance ($102,212), commercial banks ($73,736), and real estate ($70,622) sectors.
Those financial totals were combined donations from both individuals and political action committees.
Cino, who runs Cino Oil Co., has run unsuccessfully for state and federal offices before, and continues to advocate for issues important to him.
For instance, he said it would take 29 years to balance the federal budget according to Garrett’s proposal.
“Is he not trying?” Cino said, later adding, “We can’t afford to have deficit spending for another 29 years.”
Cino said he wants financial institutions that are donating to Garrett to begin providing money to companies that desperately need funding so they can build business and hire. “Big banks are not lending to small businesses the way they’re supposed to,” Cino said. “We have to get money in the hands of small businesses … We have to substitute federal spending with small business spending. That is the key, I believe.”
Garrett’s congressional communications director, Ben Veghte, did not return multiple requests made over two weeks for information about the congressman’s positions on issues, including his reaction to President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage.
Mike Inganamort provided a statement from Garrett about the congressman’s efforts to reach voters in six Bergen County towns -- Fair Lawn, Maywood, Hackensack, Teaneck, Bogota and Lodi -- that were drawn into the 5th District as a result of redistricting.
“I’ve enjoyed spending time in these communities, speaking to people at community centers, diners, supermarkets, and even at a town hall meeting in Teaneck,” Garrett said in the statement. “In each of these settings, reaction to my message of lower taxes, less spending, and smaller government, has been very well received.”
Garrett, who lives in Sussex County, is the most conservative congressman in New Jersey, according to National Journal, a Washington weekly; Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy organization; and Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group. The latter also ranks him the 11th most conservative in representative in the nation, with a 99 percent score.
Garrett, being the incumbent, has the backing of the local county Republican committees. “Scott’s very well liked,” Sussex County Republican Committee Chairwoman Ailish Hambel said. “He’s working hard, I know that. He doesn’t take anything for granted. He has such a great work ethic that I’m sure he’ll prevail.”
Both Cino and Somer want to see increased production of domestic oil and natural gas. “Real oil independence is not going to come just because you want people to drive the Chevy Volt,” said Somer, a medical administrative assistant. “I don’t mind using solar panels. I mind that you want to force people to change the way you live just because of your ideology.”
Cino said the United States is in a position to increase its place on the world stage when it comes to oil production.
“We have new technology in the oil field,” Cino said. “The proven reserves in the U.S. have doubled. We have more proven reserves now than Saudi Arabia.”
Both challengers also support the repeal of the healthcare law that is currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The mandate is a basic violation of people’s basic freedom of choice,” Somer said of the law’s provision requiring people to purchase health insurance or face a fine. “I think that the Supreme Court should take the whole thing away.”
Businesses with 50 or more employees will be required to purchase insurance for their workers under the new law, and Cino said businesses will deliberately not hire more than 49 workers to avoid the expense of purchasing healthcare for their workforces.
“You have a system which creates disincentive for businesses to hire,” Cino said. “Obama’s healthcare plan will produce results that people don’t want.”
Somer said she hopes her candidacy will serve as a wake-up call to Garrett and remind him not to get comfortable in Washington, D.C. and forget about his constituents back home. “Because I’m going to hold you accountable,” she said.
Cino said he knows that incumbents in safe districts won’t acknowledge their opponents, and simply focus on the general election.
“I don’t think he’s going to come out for a debate,” Cino said of Garrett. “If somebody wants a debate, I’ll be there. There might be an empty chair for Scott Garrett.”
To date, there has been no debate in the district. Somer said she is going to speak on WRNJ radio on May 31 at 11 a.m.