Rep. Bill Pascrell (above) is facing off against fellow Democratic Rep. Steven Rothman in a June 5 primary for New Jerseys 9th district.
Personalities aside, this is a geographic war. There are three counties in the district: Bergen, Hudson and Passaic. In New Jersey, county machines still flourish as the most important political organizations. The Bergen machine is behind Rothman, Passaic is with Pascrell, and Hudson voters could prove decisive.
“Hudson County matters,” Currie said, stressing the importance of every ballot cast in a low-turnout primary. “This race could come down to 5-, 6-, 700 votes.”
When one thinks of New Jersey, it is probably the new 9th district that comes to mind.
The New Jersey Turnpike courses through the district, as does the Garden State Parkway. The George Washington Bridge stretches from the 9th and disappears into the New York City skyline. New Jersey’s “Real Housewives” do business here, as have real and fictional Mafioso. And Bruce Springsteen sings of its Meadowlands swamps and the community’s firsthand devastation on Sept. 11, 2001.
This is not a place for the faint of heart.
Amid all the iconography, the newly married portions of Rothman’s and Pascrell’s current districts are night and day and each man embodies the temperament of his hometown.
Paterson, where Pascrell was once mayor, is where people go to begin the American dream. It has been that way for generations. Once heavily Italian Catholic, Paterson has shifted toward a predominantly Latino and African-American population.
Main Street is congested and gritty, with old brick warehouses a reminder of its industrial past.
Rothman’s hometown of Englewood in Bergen County is minutes from Paterson, yet it is a world away.
Around every corner sits a luxury car dealership. The main drag is quiet, polished and orderly. There are galleries, a Starbucks and spas. Picture perfect houses are set back on sprawling lawns.
Although there are pockets of poverty, Englewood is where people go when they have achieved the American dream.
The entire district is situated in New York City’s prohibitively expensive media market. This puts added emphasis on the campaign’s get-out-the-vote strategy.
In Pascrell’s world, houses are jammed close to each other. Supporters gather at the Elk’s Lodge or in a narrow backyard for a block party. They bring new friends to every event. The retail politicking here is person-to-person.
For the Rothman camp, the outreach emphasis is on direct mail, door knocking and phone-banking. A group of rabbis and synagogue presidents banded together recently to pen a voter outreach letter.
“I’ve got the hardest-working team anybody could hope for,” Rothman said in an interview. “I certainly am doing my part working seven days and nights from when I open my eyes to when I close them and have kept that schedule going pretty much without break since a few days after Christmas.”
It’s hard to tell which lawmaker has the edge, although Pascrell got a major boost Friday with the endorsement of President Bill Clinton.
Public polls are scarce, as is a basic voter awareness about the race.
Because of the way the county political machines work, Rothman has an institutional advantage on the ballot. But all signs point to low turnout, and Pascrell has passion on his side.