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Rothman supporters, on the other hand, are quick to note that Rothman lives near the district line and will soon move to the 9th. They also say that Rothman grew up in the new 9th. In adulthood, Rothman was mayor of Englewood on the east side of the 9th and was a practicing attorney in the district.
“This is Steve Rothman’s home district and anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D) said in a statement distributed by the Rothman campaign.
Rothman could run in the 5th and win, but he would win because Garrett is too conservative for the seat, a state Democratic insider said.
But that race would cost big money, and in 2014, Rothman would not have the coattails of President Barack Obama and Sen. Bob Menendez (D), both of whom are on the ballot this year. The insider fears Rothman’s record would be too liberal for the Republican-leaning district, and he would probably lose re-election to a new, more moderate GOP candidate.
“He had no choice,” the Democrat said.
In one of the rare instances of agreement on the race, both campaigns disagree with that Democrat, but with differing logic.
“I would characterize that as laziness,” a source close to Pascrell said. “It is silly for anyone to argue ... that the [5th] district is unwinnable. That’s garbage.”
The Rothman camp says that running in the redrawn 5th was never a consideration. “This is his home district,” Rothman campaign spokesman Philip Swibinski said of the 9th.
The new 9th district is home to the Meadowlands and is part of the New York City metropolitan area. Ad rates in the New York market are exorbitant — at least a half-million dollars per week to go on the air.
Observers estimate each campaign is likely to spend $2.5 million to $3 million — money that each lawmaker could be spending to help Democrats win House races elsewhere. As of the end of September, Pascrell had $1.4 million in cash on hand, while Rothman had $1.7 million in the bank.
The spending is a major cause for concern.
“All this money. ... We could be building the county parties and grass roots in a productive way,” one local Democrat said. “Instead, we’re killing each other.”
Both campaigns are touting local endorsements, which could help make the difference in a race between the two liberal lawmakers.
The refrain among Democratic strategists is that Rothman has “the numbers” edge in terms of voters but that Pascrell is a skilled retail politician who knows how to bring out the vote.
Also coming into play is the New Jersey Democratic machine. Three counties are in the new 9th: Bergen (home to Rothman), Hudson and Passaic (home to Pascrell).
In New Jersey party contests, each county’s Democratic Party offers an endorsement called “the line,” which determines ballot placement. But it also puts the full support of the county party’s machine behind a candidate.
Pascrell is expected to be “on the line” in Passaic, while Rothman will likely be “on the line” in Bergen and Hudson.
PolitickerNJ reported that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee offered Rothman a sizable guarantee of campaign funds if he ran in the 5th district.