The political free-for-all for Holt’s seat yesterday overshadowed Holt’s decision to retire, which came as a surprise. Holt had run in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in August, and had finished third to now U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in a four-candidate field.
Holt, a former Princeton University nuclear physicist and five-time Jeopardy winner, won a narrow upset victory in 1998 after Republican incumbent Michael Pappas embarrassed himself on the House floor by crooning “Twinkle, Twinkle, Kenneth Starr” to honor the birthday of the special prosecutor brought in to investigate the Whitewater affair. Campaigning for reelection with bumper stickers boasting “My congressman IS a rocket scientist,” Holt won his second election in 2000 by a recount, then was rewarded with a safer seat in redistricting the following year.
Noted for his support for science and the environment, Holt won his next five elections easily in a district that stretched from Hunterdon to Monmouth County. The 2011 redistricting gave him an impregnable Democratic bastion made up primarily of Mercer and Middlesex counties, neither of which has a single Republican legislator or freeholder.
If Holt had decided to retire before the last redistricting, the 12th District would have been regarded as a swing district, much like the 3rd District is today, and would have undoubtedly drawn strong Republican candidates from Monmouth, like state Sens. Joseph Kyrillos and Jennifer Beck (both R-Monmouth) into the race.
“It would have been a lot tougher,” Greenstein reflected last night. “But I still would have run. After running in the 14th District year after year, I’m used to tough races.”