After an ugly contest that filled the airwaves with attack ads, Democrat Josh Gottheimer has won a New Jersey congressional race against Republican incumbent Scott Garrett. After all the ballots were tallied on Wednesday, the Jewish former Bill Clinton aide held a 3% edge over his Tea Party rival, a bright spot for liberals in an otherwise bleak election cycle.
“They said this couldn’t happen, that our district was just too partisan, too entrenched,” Gottheimer said in remarks printed by The New York Times. “But handshake by handshake, call by call, living room by living room, vote by vote, you, all of you proved them wrong.”
Democrats focused in on the fight in New Jersey’s fifth congressional district as part of their effort to take back the House of Representatives, a drive that came to naught along with their larger electoral fortunes.
Garrett represented the area for seven terms, an impressive achievement given that his Tea Party-oriented views seemed out-of-step with his surburban constituents in North Jersey. But this cycle was particularly tough for him, as he faced an onslaught of negative press from a well-financed, moderate Gottheimer due to his stances on gay rights and links to a local far-right extremist group.
After a July report in Politico that Garrett refused to contribute to a national Republican campaign fund because it funded gay candidates, the congressman dealt with charges of homophobia and saw himself cut off from finance industry money, a key source of cash in the New York metro region.
In a telephone interview at the time with The Times, Garrett denied those allegations, calling them “ridiculous.”
“I support anyone’s right to run for public office,” he told the newspaper. “I support my fellow Republican candidates.”
But that wasn’t the sum of his problems — he was also bedeviled by reports in October that he hosted a fundraiser with a New Jersey chapter of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group of former law enforcement and military officers. The group is considered a domestic terrorist threat by New Jersey’s state government.
“What I need from you is your blood, sweat and tears,” Garrett supposedly told the group, according to a story from Bloomberg News.
Gottheimer, meanwhile, fashioned himself as a socially liberal, fiscally conservative opponent, ready to get to Washington, D.C. and break out of the partisan mold there.
Going to Microsoft after his time in the Clinton administration, he outraised his foe two-to-one — $4 million to $2 million, roughly — thanks to the largesse of the tech and corporate worlds. He even garnered the endorsement of prominent Republican donor Meg Whitman, the former head of Hewlett Packard.
“The Tea Party extremism does not reflect the values of our district,” Gottheimer told The Times. “If you want to get things done we’ve got to get rid of the obstructionists.”
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Gottheimer will be one of 23 Jewish politicians in the next Congress, up from 19 in the current one.
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.