Seth Grossman is doing a great Donald Trump impression. But will it get him elected?
Grossman, 69, is the Republican candidate for a seat in the U.S. House in a southern New Jersey district. In recent weeks he’s gained national attention for making Trumpian tactics the core of his campaign, decrying “diversity,” mocking Kwanzaa and denigrating Islam. With state Republicans distancing themselves — and their dollars — from him, it’s not clear that the strategy will have the desired effect. But for Grossman, it’s barely a strategy — it’s just what he believes.
“I’ve looked at each comment I made, and I looked at the event that prompted each comment,” Grossman told the Forward. “I think that the comments I made were a fairly reasonable reaction to the event that had taken place.”
The district — New Jersey’s 2nd — is largely white and contains counties that voted for Trump. But while it has hosted a Republican congressman for 24 years, it is considered a “pivot” district in 2018, since it voted Democrat in 2008 and 2012 before turning red in 2016. A Grossman defeat may be what breaks the GOP’s congressional stronghold in southern New Jersey.
Going into the June 5 primary, Grossman was considered an underdog for the nomination. His campaign signs linked his candidacy with support for the president.
The Republican winner, Seth Grossman, campaigned on a straight ahead Trump platform and plastered “Make America Great Again” signs all over the district. #nj02#NJPrimarypic.twitter.com/TI8ncNGQgZ— Amy S. Rosenberg (@amysrosenberg) June 6, 2018
Grossman also touted his experience as a lawyer. He had gained some political fame in his hometown of Atlantic City for suing the state for not passing a balanced budget. The suit was settled last month, and one of the results as that Atlantic City casinos will pay more than $37 million more in taxes this year than what they would have paid under current New Jersey law.
Grossman has told Ballotpedia that his favorite holiday is Passover. “It brings friends and family together with good food, beverages, company, and conversation, but also teaches important lessons,” he wrote.
Much of Grossman’s racist and xenophobic language went unnoticed during the primary. But then he beat the favorite Hirsch Singh by 2,200 votes out of 26,000 total cast. Jeff Van Drew, a state legislator and a dentist, won the Democratic primary. That’s when Grossman made national news, and that’s when he doubled down on his rhetoric.
Last week, CNN published a rundown of some of the more offensive comments Grossman has posted on his Facebook page. He has called Islam a “cancer” and compared Muslims to Nazis. He called Kwanzaa “a phony holiday invented in 1960’s by black racists to weaken and divide Americans during a Christmas season of joy and good will,” and wrote a Facebook post which said that black children “will murder our children.”
Grossman said that he both stands by his statements opposing diversity and said other statements have been taken out of context.
“That’s what the democrats do,” he said. “Democrats demonize opponents by taking what they say out of the context of how they were spoken.”
The Republican Party has struggled this cycle with embarrassing down-ballet candidates. The California GOP condemned John Fitzgerald and Patrick Little, who was running for Senate.
In Illinois, former American Nazi Party leader Arthur Jones won the Republican nomination for a House of Representatives race after no other candidates ran in a heavily Democratic district. The state party later said it would back another candidate as a write-in.
And in Wisconsin, businessman Paul Nehlen, who was banned from Twitter for anti-Semitism and racism, is the most prominent Republican candidate to replace retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan.
In an interview with WHYY, Grossman said that disadvantages faced by African-Americans are “exaggerated.” He added that he liked diversity when it came to food, but later said that things like affirmative action are an “excuse” and “evil.”
“I see a path to victory by saying things that everybody knows are true, but that Jeff Van Drew and other politicians are afraid of saying because of political correctness,” Grossman told the New York Times.
Grossman’s main campaigning issues fall in line with his Trumpian tactics. He offers potential voters a bullet-pointed list: repeal Obamacare; support Second Amendment rights; support Trump and “our MAGA agenda”; “stop obstruction and fake impeachment charges”; and “teaching what made America great in our schools again.” Grossman said he thinks his stances on these issues are going to speak louder than any media frenzy over his offensive comments.
“I’m known in this area,” he said. “And I actually believe that the voters of south Jersey will hear both candidates and make a decision based on common sense. And I don’t believe they’re gonna be influenced by what the national media says.”
Van Drew’s campaign has repeatedly criticized Grossman’s statements.
“Senator Van Drew wants to be a congressman that embraces our diversity because that is the foundation of country’s success for generations as a land of opportunity,” Ned Miller, Van Drew’s campaign manager, told NJ.com
Grossman’s racist comments have also earned him scorn from Republican leaders in New Jersey.
“Offensive and racist rhetoric has no place in our party or our public discourse,” Bob Hugin, who is running against the Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, told the Times. “New Jersey is strengthened by its diversity and should embrace it always. No exceptions.”
The Times reported that neither the National Republican Congressional Committee nor the New Jersey Republican State Committee have any plans to invest in his campaign. Doug Steinhardt, chairman of the State committee, said that Grossman’s statements “don’t belong in the party that we’re building.” Without major funding, it’s not clear how far Grossman’s campaign can go. According to OpenSecrets.org, Van Drew’s campaign has $412,000 of cash on hand; Grossman’s has about $11,000.
But Grossman still likes his chances. He has a fundraiser coming up this weekend; his campaign’s goal is to reach $50,000 by July 4. He pointed out that his main primary opponent, Singh, spent far more money than he did: over $83,000.
“I don’t have to spend as much money as the Democrats,” Grossman said. “I just have to spend enough money to deliver my message to enough voters.”
Update, 6/25/18, 5:20 p.m. — This article has been updated with comments from Seth Grossman.
Seth Grossman Might Flip His New Jersey District — Blue