Politics

He Could Be the Last Republican Standing in New Jersey

With 4 of 5 GOP-held N.J. seats in play, Chris Smith might be the lone survivor

Rep. Christopher H. Smith is the only New Jersey Republican lawmaker not facing a competitive re-election this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ah, New Jersey, the land of malls, diners, Bruce Springsteen … and the endangered Republican. Just how endangered? Well, right now the state’s House delegation has seven Democrats and five Republicans but if the political winds blow just right, the latter number could dwindle to one.

The Garden State is playing host to four competitive races this year — all for GOP-held seats — according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Democrats are favored to pick up two open seats — Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo’s 2nd District in South Jersey and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s northern suburban 11th District. 

Two Republican incumbents are fighting for their political survival — Rep. Tom MacArthur faces a Tilts Democratic race in the 3rd District, while Rep. Leonard Lance’s bid for a sixth term in the 7th District is rated a Toss-up

[Can New Jersey’s Leonard Lance Survive a Democratic Wave?]

The lone GOP safe seat is the 4th District represented by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, who could be the last Republican standing after Nov. 6. The district, which stretches from the Trenton suburbs to parts of the Jersey Shore, was the only one in the state to back President Donald Trump by double digits in 2016. 

Only twice since the mid-1850s — when the GOP emerged as the other major modern-day political party — has New Jersey had only one Republican House member. Once was during the Civil War in the 38th Congress (1863-65) when John F. Starr was the lone Republican along with four Democrats. The other was in the 63rd Congress (1913-15) when William J. Browning was the solo GOP lawmaker alongside 11 other Democrats for part of that Congress.

Starr, a Camden bank president, served for two terms; Browning served five. Both represented South Jersey districts that included Camden.

[He Helped Write the GOP’s Health Care Bill. Now It’s Catching Up With Him]

The state’s House breakdown has been somewhat close throughout much of its history. For much of the 1920s through the 1950s, Republicans held sizable majorities. But the trend slowly reversed itself in the 1960s to the point that in the post-Watergate 94th Congress (1975-77), the state had 12 Democrats to three Republicans.

While things have evened out over the past 40 years, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Republicans are losing ground in New Jersey. Recent state statistics show that in only three districts do Republican registrations outpace Democrats.

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