October 21, 2016

National Journal: The Candidate Helping Democrats Expand the House Map

With nominee Josh Gottheimer charting a centrist course, the party sees a unique opening this cycle to unseat Republican Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey.

FAIR LAWN, N.J.— Hardly any Demo­crat run­ning for the House is tout­ing pro­pos­als for lower cor­por­ate tax rates, few­er reg­u­la­tions, and a bal­anced budget.

Josh Got­theimer is tak­ing a dif­fer­ent route.The former Mi­crosoft ex­ec­ut­ive held court earli­er this week at a diner here in a north­ern New Jer­sey dis­trict, tick­ing through those eco­nom­ic plans to his audi­ence of three Re­pub­lic­an sup­port­ers who are all vot­ing dif­fer­ently in the pres­id­en­tial race.

“The middle has got­ten lost in this coun­try,” Got­theimer lamen­ted. “What’s there for us?”

As he mounts the strongest ever chal­lenge to Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Scott Gar­rett, Got­theimer is pitch­ing him­self as a fisc­ally con­ser­vat­ive and so­cially pro­gress­ive Demo­crat. Though he was once viewed as a heavy un­der­dog, his cam­paign is now sur­ging to the top tier of his party’s pri­or­ity list, thanks in part to his ag­gress­ive fun­drais­ing and Gar­rett’s own highly pub­li­cized con­tro­ver­sies.

“This year, we’ve got an ex­cel­lent can­did­ate who is well-fun­ded,” New Jer­sey Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Lor­etta Wein­berg said re­cently. “Con­gress­man Gar­rett does not rep­res­ent the same philo­sophy that is rep­res­en­ted by the ma­jor­ity of the dis­trict.”

‘Gar­rett, chair­man of a Fin­an­cial Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee, tanked his stand­ing last year with many cor­por­ate donors after privately cri­ti­ciz­ing the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee’s sup­port for gay can­did­ates. The back­lash al­lowed Got­theimer to tap in­to a well of sup­port from the fin­an­cial in­dustry, while pro­pelling his ef­forts to tar the in­cum­bent as an out-of-touch ex­trem­ist.

Got­theimer for months has also got­ten valu­able air cov­er from Demo­crats, while no sig­ni­fic­ant GOP spend­ing has ar­rived to shore up Gar­rett. Some Re­pub­lic­ans say a late in­fu­sion of cash would have little im­pact any­way here in the ex­pens­ive New York me­dia mar­ket.

Though Rep. Tom Ma­cAr­thur’s seat to the south leans more Demo­crat­ic, Demo­crats are only ex­pend­ing valu­able re­sources here, con­vinced of Got­theimer’s strength and Gar­rett’s vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.Gar­rett pre­dicted in a phone in­ter­view Wed­nes­day that the well-moneyed Demo­crat­ic groups would fall short in their ef­forts. He also sug­ges­ted that Got­theimer, an alum­nus of the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, was chiefly draw­ing on out-of-state donors.

“My op­pon­ent has used his con­nec­tions with Wash­ing­ton and spe­cial in­terests, and spe­cific­ally Hil­lary Clin­ton,” Gar­rett said, down­play­ing his own frayed ties with the fin­an­cial in­dustry.

Got­theimer, a self-de­scribed pro-busi­ness Demo­crat, is push­ing a strictly cent­rist mes­sage.He is aim­ing to drive sup­port here and in oth­er sub­urbs in the well-heeled Ber­gen County, where the dis­trict’s pop­u­la­tion is in­creas­ingly clustered. At the roundtable Tues­day at the Land & Sea Res­taur­ant, Got­theimer, dressed in a dark suit, pressed the case for lower taxes and more in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment, lean­ing in as he listened to feed­back.

“The road in front of my house was like a third-world coun­try,” said Emer­son res­id­ent En­id Koss­ar, agree­ing with Got­theimer. “They were fi­nally paved last month.”Koss­ar, a re­gistered Re­pub­lic­an, says she is vot­ing for Got­theimer, call­ing him the “kind of Demo­crat I used to be.” She also says she plans to sup­port Don­ald Trump.

A speech­writer in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, Got­theimer has en­dorsed Hil­lary Clin­ton, whom he ad­vised in her 2008 cam­paign. But in an in­ter­view after the roundtable, he down­played his ties to the Clin­ton fam­ily, cast­ing his work for them as simply one seg­ment of his pro­fes­sion­al back­ground.

“I don’t know what the Clin­ton net­work is, ex­cept that I know I’ve made an enorm­ous amount of friends in both the private sec­tor and when I worked in gov­ern­ment,” he said, sit­ting in his sparsely dec­or­ated cam­paign of­fice. “If you’ve worked in Demo­crat­ic polit­ics in the last 25 years, you are some­how tied to some­body who was a Clin­ton.”

Mitt Rom­ney and John Mc­Cain nar­rowly car­ried the 5th Dis­trict in the past two pres­id­en­tial elec­tions, but Trump’s un­pop­ular­ity among col­lege-edu­cated voters could dampen his chances, as 46 per­cent of voters here hold at least a bach­el­or’s de­gree. Gar­rett, who won with 55 per­cent of the vote in his last two elec­tions and is now in his sev­enth term, de­clined to spec­u­late on how Trump would per­form here.“I don’t pre­dict pres­id­en­tial races,” said Gar­rett, a House Free­dom Caucus mem­ber.Though Demo­crats have pre­vi­ously tar­geted Gar­rett, he has suc­cess­fully run up the score in parts of the dis­trict like Sus­sex County, which is more rur­al and Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing.

At the West­field Garden State Plaza 3 miles south of the diner, a couple of people said they re­mained un­fa­mil­i­ar with Got­theimer, il­lus­trat­ing the hurdle for most chal­lengers of a long­time in­cum­bent. But a few oth­ers at the mall who spoke with Na­tion­al Journ­al said they planned to vote for Got­theimer, cit­ing Gar­rett’s con­tro­ver­sies.“Scott Gar­rett has in­ten­tion­ally sab­ot­aged work with gay Re­pub­lic­ans or with any Re­pub­lic­ans who sup­port gay people,” said Dav­id McNally, a Wyck­off res­id­ent who is vot­ing for Got­theimer.

Free­dom Caucus Chair­man Jim Jordan met with Speak­er Paul Ry­an late last month to urge the NR­CC to get in­volved in the race, Politico re­por­ted at the time. But the NR­CC still has not re­served any air­time for him in the elec­tion’s fi­nal weeks.Gar­rett had $2.1 mil­lion in cash on hand as of the end of Septem­ber to Got­theimer’s $2.6 mil­lion. Gar­rett told Na­tion­al Journ­al that he con­trib­utes dues to “part” of the NR­CC, which did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Asked if he needed fin­an­cial back­ing from the group, Gar­rett said, “Ul­ti­mately, my sup­port rests with the people of the 5th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. They know what I stand for.”

Read it on National Journal’s website.