They sell T-shirts in New Jersey that say “Only the Strong Survive.” It’s a fitting motto for the banner Member-vs.-Member race shaping up in the Garden State between Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell and Steven Rothman.
Party strategists are dubbing the race “Sherman-Berman East,” a reference to the California contest between Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman that promises to be a nasty blockbuster.
But unlike the battle out West, where Berman has wide support among his House colleagues, New Jersey Members and Democratic political operatives are caught in an awkward position between two highly regarded Members. Not one Democrat in the delegation was willing to pick sides and offer an endorsement when contacted by Roll Call.
“I think they’re both qualified candidates and substantial contributors to New Jersey,” Rep. Donald Payne (D) said, echoing a sentiment that operatives, donors and others have stressed.
“It’s like someone’s cutting off a limb here,” said one party operative, who added those not closely associated with the candidates or their regions of the state are “avoiding [the race] like the plague.”
Many party loyalists were reluctant to go on the record with opinions, saying that both men are respected and loved. The Democratic insiders who would speak to Roll Call used words such as “horrible,” “devastating” and “this sucks” to describe how they felt about the race.
Democrats cannot find an arbiter who has the power to talk one of the men out of the race. “There’s nothing to offer,” the political operative said.
The race came to be during redistricting because the state lost a seat in reapportionment. The district consolidation occurred in the area of the two lawmakers’ current seats in northern New Jersey.
Rothman’s Fair Lawn residence was drawn into Rep. Scott Garrett’s (R) 5th district, but he opted to run against Pascrell in the new 9th district. The 9th has a substantial number of constituents from both incumbents’ current districts.
Both camps portray the new 9th district as its candidate’s obvious native territory and express dismay that the other candidate would even consider running in the June 5 primary.
The Pascrell campaign says that Pascrell lives in the district and Rothman does not. In the campaign’s logic, Rothman should run where his current home is, in the 5th district, and seize the opportunity to take out the conservative Garrett.
“Steve Rothman would be letting down New Jersey Democrats by running outside his hometown and passing up an opportunity to unseat right-wing radical Scott Garrett,” Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie, who has endorsed Pascrell, said in a written statement. “He would be playing right into the hands of Governor Christie.”