In a New Jersey congressional district across the river from New York filled with million-dollar homes and massive shopping malls, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton is waging a well-funded campaign against a seven-term incumbent Republican who has been dragged down by reports he challenged his party’s support for gay candidates.
As a conservative Republican in a deep blue state, Rep. Scott Garrett figures he gets to read his political obituary every two years. He has fought off challenges from Democrats since 2002 by prevailing in the rural northwestern areas of New Jersey’s 5th District as well as its wealthier — and more populous — suburbs closer to New York City.
This time the challenge is coming from Josh Gottheimer and the race is being closely watched as Democrats seek to make gains in the GOP-controlled House.
They will need to win Republican-held suburban districts across the country to capture House control. Trying to do just that, they’re pouring money into races around Minneapolis, Minnesota; Orlando, Florida; Las Vegas; and Philadelphia in hopes of gaining the 30 seats they’d need for a majority next year.
That quest has long seemed like a long shot, but GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s slide in the polls has raised Democratic hopes that they may pull it off.
Garrett has been hampered by a controversy over reports last year that he said he wouldn’t donate to a national Republican committee because it supported gay candidates. The fallout has seen corporate donors like PNC Bank and State Farm pull their support.
Gottheimer has taken advantage and raised $4 million through September, compared to Garrett’s $1.9 million, according to federal campaign disclosures.
Garrett “has been able to dress up as somebody less extreme, but now I think the facts are coming out,” Gottheimer said recently. “We have the resources now to let people know who he is.”
With the 5th District’s rural counties a Garrett stronghold, densely populated Bergen County to the east, home to some of the country’s wealthiest ZIP codes, figures to be where the election is decided.