Gonzales

Rating Change: Democrats Turn Up Heat in New Jersey House Race

Defeating GOP's Scott Garrett has become one of the party's top goals

New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett has drawn national attention for his remarks on gay Republican candidates. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Scott Garrett doesn’t represent one of the most Democratic districts, but Democrats have made the New Jersey Republican one of their top takeover targets this cycle. It’s starting to feel like even if Democrats fall short of the majority on Election Night, defeating Garrett would help them sleep a little easier.

Mitt Romney and John McCain carried New Jersey’s 5th District in the most recent presidential elections, so there are better opportunities for Democrats in more Democratic districts.

But the conservative congressman has yet to fully emerge from the shadow of his predecessor, moderate GOP Rep. Marge Roukema, even though Garrett has been in office for over a decade. And he drew national attention for his comments about gay Republican candidates.

[Roll Call's 2016 Election Guide: House]

Garrett has refused to pay dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee because, he said, the committee recruited gay candidates and supported them in primaries. He disclosed this to some of his fellow Republicans on the Financial Services Committee a year ago.

Since then, some of his fundraising from the financial services industry has dried up, and his race has become a cause celebre in Democratic circles.

In June, House Majority PAC, the go-to Democratic group for House races, began a seven-week cable television campaign with an ad, titled "Quotes," featuring critiques of Garrett from New Jersey newspaper editorials. "Scott Garrett. He's bad for business and wrong for New Jersey," the ad said. 

Democrats have evidence, and even some GOP strategists admit, that the ad campaign worked and that this is an increasingly serious race. A late-August GBA Strategies poll for the DCCC showed Garrett with a 2-point lead compared to an April survey for a Democratic outside group which had the incumbent ahead by 19 points.

We’re changing The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rating from Republican Favored to Leans Republican

Growing Democratic optimism is also due to the party’s nominee, Josh Gottheimer, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, who has proven to be a great fundraiser. He raised nearly $3 million through the end of June and came close to wiping out Garrett’s cash-on-hand advantage.

In the end, the expensive New York City media market could insulate Garrett from defeat in his North Jersey district, as Democrats must spend considerable money to litigate their case against the incumbent and raise Gottheimer’s profile as an alternative. But Democrats are not letting up. House Majority PAC is back on cable with its second ad, “Dixie.” 

“His views are perfect for rural Alabama,” the ad's narrator says. “So why is Scott Garrett representing New Jersey?”

Simone Pathé contributed to this report.

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