The 2020 House campaign is in full swing around the country, and New Jersey is no exception. The Democrats performed exceptionally well in the state in the 2018 blue wave, defeating two incumbent Republicans while also flipping two open Republican seats for a net gain of four seats overall. When combined with Josh Gottheimer’s 2016 victory over Republican Scott Garrett, the Democrats have flipped five House seats in the state in just two cycles.
The strong Democratic performance in the state’s US House races came from the suburbs, which have trended towards the Democrats in the Trump era. As we analyze each competitive House seat for 2020, we will look at the impact of the suburbs on the elections of these freshman Democrats in 2018, as well as the impact they will play in each race in 2020.
We will be taking a look at all twelve of New Jersey’s seats in the House of Representatives. Each race will be analyzed in detail, with special attention being paid to the candidates, primaries, important campaign events, incumbent accomplishments, and the 2018 House Election results. This article will provide you with all the information you need on the current state of the 2020 House of Representatives campaign in New Jersey.
New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District – (D) Donald Norcross
New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District is a safe Democratic seat that is based primarily in Camden County, with parts of Burlington County and Gloucester County also included. The seat has a PVI of D+13, and voted for Hillary Clinton by a 61-37% margin. Largely composed of the Philadelphia suburbs, the district is 68.7% White, and its pro-labor working class lineage shines through to this day.
The seat hasn’t been represented by a Republican since 1974, when incumbent Republican Representative John E. Hunt lost re-election to Democrat James Florio by a 57.5-38.5% margin. Florio went on to become Governor of New Jersey and went down as one of the most unpopular New Jersey Governors in history because of his controversial tax plan.
Florio represented the district until 1990, shortly before his ascension to the Gubernatorial office following his landslide 1989 victory. The next man to represent the seat was Camden native Rob Andrews, who held the seat for 24 years. Andrews was always considered a moderate during his tenure in the House, and remained fairly popular within his seat. In 2014, he resigned his seat following an investigation by the House Ethics Committee into his misuse of campaign funds.
In the 2014 special election, State Senator Donald Norcross took 72.1% of the vote against two obscure challengers and defeated Republican Garry Cobb by a 57.5-39.5% margin in the general; he has been re-elected easily ever since. In the House he was given the position of Assistant Whip and took up his predecessor’s committee assignments on Armed Services and Education and the Workforce.
Norcross has shrewdly used his membership on the Education and Workforce Committee to push his pro-worker agenda. According to his House website, some of his major issues include raising the minimum wage, and expanding access to education. One initiative Norcross has put extensive work into is a plan to establish a National Worker’s Memorial Day as a US holiday. Norcross’s focus on worker’s issues makes him a perfect fit for his traditionally Democratic district.
Congressman Norcross won with 64.4% of the vote in 2018 against Republican Paul Dilks, and is the safe favorite for re-election in 2020 against his Republican opponent Claire Gustafson, a businesswoman. Norcross has a bright future ahead of him in the House as a Representative who perfectly fits his district.
New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District – (R) Jeff Van Drew
New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, which composes the majority of South Jersey, has its Democratic roots, but has recently been trending to the Republicans. It voted for President Barack Obama twice by a 53-45% margin and it elected Democrats to the State Senate and State Assembly in 2017. In 2016, however, the district voted for Republican Donald Trump by a 50-46% margin, swinging away from the Democrats. Republicans also gained ground on the state level in 2019 when Republicans Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan defeated Democratic State Assemblymen R. Bruce Land and Matt Milam. Republicans also won the Special Election to New Jersey’s 1st Senate District on the same day, with Republican Mike Testa defeating incumbent Democrat Bob Andrzejczak, who had been appointed to fill the Senate seat of Jeff Van Drew, who now represents the seat.
The swing between the 2017 and 2019 State Senate elections in the district, which includes much of the same territory as the 2nd Congressional District, shows just how strong the Republican trends in South Jersey are becoming.
Before we look at Jeff Van Drew’s 2018 Election to the US House, let’s take a look back at the history of the 2nd District. We’re going all the way back to Democratic Congressman William Hughes, who represented the seat from 1975-1995. Hughes was elected in 1974 , defeating Republican Representative Charles Sandman in a 1974 midterm that saw two South Jersey seats held by Republicans flip in an anti-Nixon year that has similarities to the 2018 environment in the region. He was very popular and didn’t face a remotely competitive election again until 1992, when he defeated future Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo. Hughes worked on many important national issues, such as Gun Control, but also focused on local issues, including bills to ban ocean dumping to help clean up the Jersey shore, and a bill to preserve the New Jersey pine barrens.
In 1994, Congressman Hughes retired, and the seat flipped by a landslide margin to Republican Frank LoBiondo, a moderate State Representative who won the seat on his second bid. LoBiondo served until his retirement in 2018 and held on in multiple blue wave elections, even as his seat voted for Clinton, Gore, and Obama. During his time in the House, LoBiondo was just as popular as his Democratic predecessor. He often fell into the category of “moderate conservative” in the House, and was a member of the moderate Republican Main Street Coalition.
In 2018, LoBiondo announced his retirement after nearly two-decades in Congress. This opened up a competitive seat that both parties knew they could win, particularly the Democrats, who had their ideal candidate in popular conservative Democratic State Senator, Jeff Van Drew. Van Drew had won his Senate elections handily in the 1st Legislative district and was fairly popular with voters of all backgrounds in the district. He was considered the favorite against Republican Seth Grossman, who was criticized for racist comments during the campaign. Van Drew beat Grossman by a 52-45% margin in 2018, flipping the open seat to the Democrats. In his victory, he won all but one county in the district and held a very similar coalition to the one that handily elected him in his State Senate bids.
Once in office, Van Drew quickly made good on his promise to be a conservative Democrat. He voted against Nancy Pelosi for Speaker and remained a hesitant deal-maker when it came to Democratic legislation. Van Drew’s whole career changed in December 2019, though, when he announced he would be joining the Republican Party and voting against President Donald Trump’s impeachment. Democrats viewed him as a traitor, but much of his political base remains intact and being a Republican in this typically conservative House seat definitely helps.
Van Drew is the favorite for re-election here in 2020, with most pundit organizations rating the seat as Lean Republican. His entry into the race as a Republican caused rich businessman David Richter to jump into the Republican primary for the neighboring 3rd district against fellow Republican Kate Gibbs in a bid to take on Democratic incumbent Andy Kim. Van Drew’s Democratic opponent is yet to be decided. The primary has five candidates, but the two main contenders are Brigid Callaghan Harrison, a Montclair State political science professor, and Amy Kennedy, the wife of former Congressman Patrick Kennedy. The primary has been divisive and the favorite remains unclear. Prominent State Senator Steve Sweeney as well as US Senator Cory Booker have both endorsed Harrison, but Kennedy has the endorsement of the Atlantic County Democratic Committee, which is one of the most powerful in the district.
Regardless of who wins the Democratic primary here, Van Drew remains the favorite. Van Drew currently has a large lead in fundraising, which is important in the expensive media markets of the northeast. Of the top three candidates in the race, the fundraising stands as follows: Van Drew $2.2 million, Kennedy $816,330, and Harrison $258,345. The Republican trends in South Jersey, as well as Van Drew’s persistent, yet slightly dented, popularity, are likely to carry him over the line for re-election, albeit by a competitive margin. However, it is possible that the Democrats retake this seat sometime in the future unless Van Drew is the next LoBiondo and establishes a long tenure for himself.
New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District – (D) Andy Kim
The 3rd district of New Jersey is more Republican on paper than its neighboring second district yet it still elected Andy Kim, a Democrat, to the House in the 2018 blue wave. The district is composed of the rapidly diversifying Philadelphia suburbs, which swung extensively to the Democrats in 2018, and of the more Republican towns in the center of the seat, which are significantly less urban and far more conservative. The seat also includes affluent shore communities on the eastern border of the state, such as Tom’s River.
The seat is largely Republican down-ballot and Trump won it by six points in 2016, but before that it followed NJ-2 in voting for Obama twice, albeit by a narrower 52-47% margin. Prior to Kim’s 2018 victory here, the seat hadn’t seen a competitive Congressional race since 2010, when Republican Jon Runyan defeated incumbent Democratic Congressman John Adler. Adler flipped the open seat held by long-time Republican incumbent Jim Saxton in the 2008 blue wave, defeating Republican Chris Myers by a 52-48% margin.
John Adler was the first Democrat to represent the region in the House since Democrat Frank Pallone, who now represents the sixth district, represented an iteration of this district following the 1990 elections. Adler had been a long-time State Senator before his Congressional bid and used his established record, in conjunction with Obama’s 2008 win of the seat, to flip NJ-3 to the Democrats.
Once in the House, Adler established a center-left voting record, largely voting in line with the national Democratic party. Like many freshmen Democrats, Adler struggled to hold his seat in the toxic anti-Obama 2010 environment. Adler was challenged by Jon Runyan, who had name recognition for being an Eagles football player, and was defeated for re-election by him.
Runyan served for only two-terms in the House and was replaced by Republican Tom MacArthur in 2014, who represented the seat until his narrow defeat in 2018. MacArthur established a fairly conservative record in Congress and was one of the few vulnerable New Jersey Republicans to vote for the unpopular Trump tax plan, which removed most of the SALT deduction, in 2018. Andy Kim, who was the third consecutive Congressman elected from the district without previously holding political office, won in a narrow 50-48% upset in 2018, largely because of extensive support in the moderate Philadelphia suburbs.
Kim was initially viewed as extremely vulnerable in 2020, especially because President Trump will likely carry the district again, but since the environment is not nearly as hostile as it was for Adler during his 2010 bid for a second term, Kim is believed to have a fair chance at re-election. Most pundits rate the race as a Tossup, but many, including Sabato’s Crystal Ball, have moved the race to Lean Dem. Kim has also greatly improved his re-election chances by being an active force in the New Jersey response to the Coronavirus. He was praised by Governor Phil Murphy for his active role in getting medical supplies delivered to vulnerable hospitals in his district and he has recently been named to a new House panel to analyze the effectiveness of the response.
Nonetheless, Kim’s seat is still the most vulnerable seat held by a Democrat in the state and it is still possible that he could be defeated. The Republican primary for the seat is very contentious and has been affected by Jeff Van Drew’s party switch in the neighboring district. The establishment favorite is moderate Republican Kate Gibbs, a former Burlington County Freeholder. She has been endorsed by prominent local and federal Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Despite being the national favorite, Businessman David Richter, who was pushed out of the 2nd district race when Van Drew switched parties, has been out- raising Gibbs. The primary here is expected to be very close and either candidate would make the race competitive. One may assume that since Richter is a strong fundraiser he would be a better nominee than Gibbs, but this is not entirely true, as much of his money comes from his own pocket. Richter is also running to the right of Gibbs, which might make him too conservative for a district that rejected Congressman MacArthur in 2018. This is a key primary to watch over the summer, and the winner definitely affects Kim’s re-election. Expect NJ-3 to be the closest House race in New Jersey in 2020.
New Jersey’s 4th Congressional District – (R) Chris Smith
Republican Chris Smith has represented his conservative seat since 1981 and is currently the dean of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation. He was first elected in 1980, during the Reagan Revolution, when he unseated incumbent Democratic Representative Frank Thompson Jr. by a 16% landslide margin. Smith has been able to win handily in nearly every election since his initial one, and remains a strong favorite for re-election in 2020.
Like many New Jersey Republicans, Chris Smith is a moderate, but he is distinct from other moderates because he is a fiscal moderate, rather than a social moderate like many of his colleagues over the years. For example: Smith opposes both abortion and same-sex marriage, yet he voted against the Trump tax cut, opposes concealed carry, and believes firmly in environmental protections to combat Climate Change. In a way, the type of Republican he is today reflects his pre-1980 Democratic roots, which fit right in with old-school Democrats.
Smith is well respected within the delegation and served as Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee for a few terms before Republicans lost the House in 2006. He is also keen on foreign policy, particularly the United Nations. Smith is content with his role, and will likely continue to serve in the House for years to come, possibly until he one day becomes Dean of the House.
The district is Safe Republican. Smith defeated Democrat Josh Welle 55-43% in 2018, and will likely defeat his 2020 Democratic opponent, whomever it ends up being, by a landslide margin as well. Smith is the only remaining New Jersey Republican in the House Delegation who was elected to his seat. (Van Drew, though a Republican now, was not elected as one in 2018.)
New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District – (D) Josh Gottheimer
New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District voted narrowly for Trump in 2016 but has continued to trend towards the Democrats since then. The current version of the district Leans Democratic on paper because of the Bergen County suburbs, which helped contribute to Gottheimer’s victory in 2016, an early sign of the devastation to come in 2018 for New Jersey Republicans.
Josh Gottheimer, a moderate Democrat in the Clinton mold, won the seat in 2016, flipping it by a 51-47% margin, defeating unpopular Republican incumbent Scott Garrett, a conservative Republican who had held the seat since 2003. Gottheimer fit the mold of the district perfectly and was one of the few Democrats to flip a House seat from a Republican incumbent in 2016. He was the first Democrat since Percy Hamilton Stewart, who held the seat from 1931-1933, to represent the district.
Gottheimer has had a moderate voting record in Congress and upset some constituents by endorsing Mike Bloomberg for President in 2020. His fiscally conservative stances on some economic issues have prompted some discontent among progressive voters and he now faces a primary challenge from Arati Kreibeich, a Glen Rock Councilwoman.
However, Gottheimer remains largely stable in his seat, and does not face a serious threat from his own party primary, nor the general election. He won re-election by double digits in 2018, and he will likely beat his Republican opponent John McCann, who is running in a rematch, by another wide margin in the 2020 election. Much like the neighboring 11th district, Joe Biden will likely expand his performance in the seat from the Clinton era, which will only help pull out voters for Gottheimer’s bid for a third term in Congress.
New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District – (D) Frank Pallone
Democrat Frank Pallone, who was first elected in the 1988 cycle, is the second most senior member of the NJ House Delegation, and is currently the most senior Democrat in the state. Pallone has built up a liberal, yet pragmatic, record during his long tenure in Congress. He worked with Congressman Hughes of the second district to limit Atlantic Ocean dumping, and has focused most of his career on local issues. Pallone is currently the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House, and has used that assignment to focus on his own seat.
The sixth congressional district is a coastal seat and stretches from Southern Newark all the way down to the coastal town of Long Branch, where Frank Pallone is from. Pallone started his career on the Long Branch council, and slowly worked his way up the ladder until he held the 1988 open seat of Democratic Congressman James Howard, who died suddenly earlier that year. After his narrow win in 1988, Pallone began to establish himself as a popular figure in the region, and soon avoided competitive elections altogether.
His current seat is heavily Democratic and he remains a strong favorite for re-election against controversially conservative Republican, Sammy Gindi. Pallone is likely to remain in the House for as long as he wishes, and whether or not he can maintain his Committee Chairmanship certainly plays a role in his decision.
New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District – (D) Tom Malinowski
New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District is largely composed of affluent suburbs in the north-central part of the state. The district includes Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, and Union counties, with parts of Warren and Essex also included. The district has a Republican history and has had a propensity for electing moderate Republicans to represent it in Congress, but in the Trump era, this backfired.
In 2018, Democrat Tom Malinowski, a former member of the Obama State Department, defeated incumbent Republican Congressman Leonard Lance, who had previously been elected handily, by a 52-47% margin. Since then, Somerset County has continued to drive the district towards the Democrats. The trend of wealthy suburbs in the county helped Clinton flip this Romney 2012 seat and also helped deliver Phil Murphy a gubernatorial victory in 2017. Somerset County has served as a bellweather in this seat. In 2016, Congressman Lance won Somerset 53-45% over Democrat Peter Jacob, and won NJ-7 as a whole by a 54-43-3% margin. In 2018, Democrat Tom Malinowski won Somerset 53-45% over Congressman Lance, and won the seat as a whole by a 52-47% margin. It is likely Somerset will be very predictive of the competitive House race here in 2020, and both Malinowski and Kean Jr will be focusing heavily on the “sway-able” suburbanites within it.
Somerset County isn’t just a bellweather on the Congressional level though, it also serves as a bellweather on the Presidential level, and will likely be critical to Former Vice President Joe Biden’s performance in the state. In 2016 Democrat Hillary Clinton won the county by a 55-42% margin and carried the whole district by a 1.1% margin, flipping it from Republican Mitt Romney, who carried it by just over 5%. Biden will likely expand off of Clinton’s margins here, and it’s possible for Malinowski to expand off of his own as well.
Before we look at Malinowski’s tenure so far, or the competitive 2020 campaign for the seat, let’s look at a bit of the district’s history. Malinowski is the first Democrat to represent an iteration of this district since Democrat Helen S. Meyner held a district that encompassed much of the territory of the modern day NJ-7 and NJ-5. Like so many other Democrats in New Jersey, Meyner got her start by knocking off a vulnerable Republican incumbent in the 1974 midterm cycle. She defeated NJ-13 Republican Incumbent Joe J. Maraziti by a 57-43% margin. She would go on to serve until January 1979. She, along with Republican Millicent Fenwick, was one of the first women to serve in the state’s Congressional delegation.
Fenwick represented a seat that was numbered as NJ-5 at the time. The district encompassed much of Somerset and Morris counties, and essentially included the other half of the modern NJ-7. This was the golden age of Somerset County Republicanism. Fenwick was first elected in 1974, when she held retiring Republican Pete Frelinghuysen’s seat. She gained notoriety during her tenure for being moderate and “an outspoken supporter of civil rights and the women’s movement.”
Fenwick became so popular that she decided to run for Senate in 1982. Democratic Senator Harrison Williams was forced to resign because of the Abscam scandal, and his interim replacement Nick Brady did not run for a full term. Fenwick seemed like the ideal candidate to run for New Jersey Republicans. She was moderate, a woman, intelligent, and could appeal to a wide base of suburban and rural voters.
On the Democratic side, there was a very crowded field. The top three candidates for the seat were Frank Lautenberg, a businessman, Andrew Maguire, a former US Representative, and Joe LeFante, another former US Representative. The primary was nasty, and the campaign frequently got heated, but in the end Lautenberg prevailed by just 2.9%.
Fenwick was considered the favorite for much of the general election, and very few pundits expected Lautenberg to win the seat for the Democrats. Lautenberg pointed out his youth and lack of political background as a contrast to the aging Fenwick. Many believed her career and record to be an asset, but in this election it was not. On election day 1982, Lautenberg began his long career by defeating Fenwick in an upset by about 3%. Now Lautenberg is remembered as one of the most memorable politicians from New Jersey.
By 2000, the 7th District had taken up much of its modern territory. Republican Mike Ferguson represented the seat from 2001-2009, until he retired in 2008 after an unusually close re-election scared him in 2006. His narrow 49-48% re-election over Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Stender scared him, so he decided to bow out and retire from his typically Republican seat.
This is where Republican Leonard Lance comes in. Lance had served in the NJ Legislature since 1991, and had experience in both chambers. He was the ideal Republican candidate and held the seat in 2008 with an 8% victory over Democrat Linda Stender. He didn’t face a moderately competitive race again until 2016. In 2018, the suburbs turned against him, and he was defeated by Tom Malinowski.
Malinowski is a strong incumbent in a Clinton district, and against any other 2020 opponent, his race would probably be Safe or Likely Democratic, like those of Gottheimer and Sherrill, but against Kean Jr. it remains Lean Democratic. Kean Jr. has a long history in New Jersey politics, and his family’s dynasty is rivaled only by the Frelinghuysen family. His father, Tom Kean Sr., was Governor from 1982 to 1990, and was so popular that he won every county and took nearly 70% of the vote in his 1985 re-election bid. The only Republican who has come close since was Chris Christie in 2013, when he defeated Barbara Buono by a similar margin. Kean Sr. also served on the 9/11 Commission, and gained even more veneration from the state for working hard to find solutions to a tragic event that hit New Jersey particularly hard.
His son, Tom Kean Jr., had a strong name to run on, and did so as a moderate Conservative. Kean served in the assembly from 2001-2003 and has represented State Senate Seat 21, which he still holds today, since 2003. Kean made a bid against scandal-plagued Senator Bob Menendez in 2006, but lost handily in a year that was toxic for Republicans nationwide.
Since 2008, Kean has been Minority Leader of the State Senate, and Lance’s 2018 defeat gave him the opportunity he was looking for to run for Congress. However, with a strong Democratic incumbent in a seat trending away from the Democrats, it is unlikely that Kean will win. Most projections predict a narrow Malinowski victory largely because of Somerset and Union counties. The race is still competitive and both candidates are strong, but Malinowski has a strong fundraising advantage, which is critical in a seat only 35 miles away from New York City’s expensive media markets. Malinowski has raised $3.2 million, while his Republican foe, Kean, has raised only $1.7 million.
In a red wave this seat could be flipped back in an upset, but in a presidential year where Biden will help pull out Malinowski voters, it is highly unlikely that any Republican, even someone as qualified as Kean Jr., will be able to flip back the seat. If Somerset County keeps trending the way it is, and Democrats get safer seats in 2022 redistricting statewide, then we can expect Malinowski to be in Congress for quite some time.
New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District – Albio Sires (D)
New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District is one of the bluest in the state. It includes the diverse Democratic communities of Hoboken and Jersey City, which often have a high immigrant presence, and is content with electing respected community figures, like Albio Sires.
Sires won election to the seat in 2006 after serving as Mayor of West York and more importantly, as Speaker of the State Assembly. A Republican back in the 80s, Sires had firmly established himself as a Democrat capable of representing the seat in Congress. He was elected in a 2006 special election to replace Bob Menendez, who had been appointed to the US Senate shortly before.
The seat used to be somewhat competitive on the Presidential level in the early 2000s, as it voted by Kerry by only a 59-41% margin in 2004, but has since become solidly Democratic. It voted for Hillary Clinton by a 76-21.5% margin, and is expected to trend even further to the Democrats over the next decade. Sires is the safe favorite for re-election for as long as he wants to hold his seat.
New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District – (D) Bill Pascrell
New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District is represented by Bill Pascrell, who happens to be the oldest serving member of the Congressional delegation, at 83 years old. He represents a strongly Democratic seat based within Passaic and Bergen counties, which includes his home town of Paterson, where he served as Mayor from 1990-1997. The seat is Safe Democratic, and voted for Clinton by a 64-33% margin in 2016. Pascrell, despite his age, is highly popular, and is thus unlikely to retire any time soon.
Let’s look at some history for this district. In 1994, a famous red wave that swept Republicans into control of the House, the old 9th district, then numbered as the 8th district, flipped to the Republicans. This was an upset victory for Republican Bill Martini, who had served as a Freeholder in Passaic County prior to his win. Democratic Incumbent Herb Klein had held the seat since 1993, and before him, Democrat Robert Roe had held it since 1969. Martini was in fact the first Republican to hold the seat since Gordon Canfield (1941-1961).
Martini’s narrow 49.8-49.5% upset victory over the incumbent Congressman made him a top target for Democrats in 1996, and no candidate seemed more qualified, nor more popular, than local Paterson Mayor Bill Pascrell. Sure enough, Pascrell flipped the seat 51-47% in 1996, and has held it safely since then.
New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District – (D) Donald Payne Jr.
New Jersey’s 10th District, which is based in the heart of Newark, is the most Democratic in the state. It has a PVI of D+36, and voted for Hillary Clinton by an 85-13% margin. The district is also majority black, and is the only majority black VRA seat in the state of New Jersey.
Donald Payne Jr. is one of two African American US Representatives in New Jersey, along with Bonnie Watson Coleman, and has represented the safe seat since 2012. In 2012, he won a special election to succeed his father, Donald Payne Sr., who had held the seat since 1989 before his death from cancer. Payne has a solidly liberal voting record and cares extensively about his district. The Payne name is well known in this part of New Jersey, and Payne Jr. will likely continue to serve here for the forseeable future.
New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District – (D) Mikie Sherrill
New Jersey’s 11th District encompasses the North Jersey territory between the 7th District and the far-north 5th District. Like many other North Jersey House seats, the 11th has a long lineage of conservatism. Until Mikie Sherrill’s 2018 victory, a Democrat hadn’t represented the seat since 1983. Much like its neighboring 5th District, NJ-11 voted for Trump in 2016, though by a much lower margin than it had voted Republican in previous election years. Republicans believed victory here was virtually assured until Rodney Frelinghuysen, a member of New Jersey’s most prominent poitical family, announced his retirement. Frelinghuysen had served since 1995 and was the powerful House Appropriations Chairman. The retirements of Frelinghuysen and LoBiondo, both of whom had been elected in 1994, left two glaring holes for Republicans in districts that had been slowly swinging away from their grasp. In both districts, the 2018 blue wave was just big enough to crack their Republican lineage.
Democrat Joseph Minish represented the 11th district from 1963-1985. Minish was used to representing the old 11th, which included more of Passaic and Bergen county, and was significantly more Democratic than its 1980s successor. In 1984, Minish was unseated by State Assemblyman Dean Gallo, a Republican, by a 55-45% margin. Gallo held the seat until his death in 1994 and was replaced by Rodney Frelinghuysen, who had a strong name on his side.
Frelinghuysen had a similar record to his South Jersey counterpart, LoBiondo, who had also been elected in 1994. Frelinghuysen and LoBiondo were re-elected by landslide margins from then until their collective 2018 retirements. But NJ-11 flipped to the Democrats by an even greater margin than its southern counterpart.
Democrats had a solid candidate for the open seat in Mikie Sherrill, a retired Navy Helicopter pilot. Sherrill was a moderate Democrat and had strong roots in the district. She vowed to take liberal stands on social issues while remaining moderate on economic issues, including what she called “fair tax cuts”. Her Republican opponent was State Assemblyman Jay Webber, who, similarly to Seth Grossman in NJ-2, was attacked for insensitive comments. Webber struggled to raise money against Sherrill, and could hardly hold down the seat. Sherrill flipped the seat by a 57-42-1% landslide margin. Out of the four Democratic gains in New Jersey that year, hers was by the largest margin. Sherrill seemed to overshadow the other freshmen Democrats in New Jersey, and she still does today. Out of the three freshmen who are still Democrats, she has the best chance at winning re-election.
Sherrill, like many incumbent Democrats, is a very strong fundraiser. She has raised over $3 million, and her nearest GOP challenger, Rosemary Becchi, has only raised $625,000. This seat is effectively Safe Democratic and Sherrill has help from Joe Biden, who will likely win this seat in 2020. Sherrill is a candidate who could have statewide ambitions one day, and it is very possible to see her running for Senate whenever Bob Menendez retires.
New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District
New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District is based in the west central part of the state and neighbors the 6th District. It is heavily Democratic and voted for Hillary Clinton by a 65-32% margin. It is currently represented by Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, who is one of two African Americans in the House delegation. Coleman has held the seat since 2015.
Though the district is Safe Democratic now, it has not always been this way. In 1996, three-term Republican Representative Dick Zimmer retired to challenge Bob Torricelli, a race he ended up losing by 10%. The old district was significantly more Republican and opened up a race that both parties fiercely targeted. In the end Michael Pappas ended up winning the open seat, holding it for the GOP by a 50-47% margin in the 1994 wave year.
In 1996, however, Congressman Pappas was narrowly unseated by Democrat Rush Holt, who would go on to represent the district for around two decades. Holt won by a similar 50-47% margin to the one Pappas had won by in 1994, and both held no major political positions prior to their victories. In 2000, Holt nearly lost the seat to Dick Zimmer, the former Congressman, and only won by a narrow 0.2% margin, 48.7-48.5%.
In 2002, a much safer seat was drawn for Holt. Many more Republican areas that had made the seat close in the past had now been removed. Holt became a stable incumbent. Holt had a somewhat close race in 2010 during a toxic environment for Democrats, but still managed to hold his seat.
In 2014, Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman defeated fellow State Legislator, Linda Greenstein, to win the Democratic primary. In redistricting the seat had been drawn to be even safer than it was previously. Coleman has a safe seat, and she will hold it easily until she decides to retire.
When we look at the New Jersey House races in 2020, we see an environment where Republicans will likely struggle to gain seats. The 2018 Midterms brought about sweeping change in the state, much like the 1974 midterms. Many of the seats that flipped Democratic in 1974 are still Democratic today. Will the Democrats have the same luck with the seats they flipped in 2018? We will have to see. One thing we do know for sure is that many seats will be hotly contested once again, with Republicans aiming to rebound to their domination in the pre-Trump era.