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.”