Rep. William J. Pascrell, Jr., a Democrat, will face off against Republican Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in New Jersey’s newly reconstructed 9th Congressional District. Both men defeated challengers in Tuesday’s primaries in their respective parties. In the newly constituted 5th Congressional Dustrict, Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen won the Democratic nomination to run against incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Garrett.
Pascrell’s stunning win put an end to the congressional career of his primary rival, Rep. Steve Rothman. It ended what had turned into an acrimonious, and some said downright dirty, primary campaign. A higher-than-expected turnout in Passaic County is credited with giving Pascrell the win. He emerged with an 11,000-vote-plus margin of victory, buoyed in part by what news reports put at a 9-to-1 vote ratio in Paterson, where the congressman once served as mayor. It was more than enough to offset Rothman’s win in the 9th’s Bergen County districts.
Also contributing to the loss was Rothman’s decision to run in the 9th, rather than face off against Garrett in the 5th. The decision was not received well in some quarters.
The redistricting that took place after the 2010 census left Rothman with a difficult choice: challenge Garrett in what is widely seen as a safe Republican district, or take on Pascrell in the new 9th C.D. Rothman’s decision to shy away from challenging Garrett left a bad taste in many Democratic mouths and arguably contributed to his defeat.
Compounding the problem was the Rothman campaign’s decision to run a deluge of negative advertising trying to paint Pascrell as the conservative in the race – a tactic that backfired in a big way once former President Bill Clinton campaigned on behalf of Pascrell (who supported Hillary for president on 2008). Clinton rebranded Pascrell as a “moderate fighter,” willing and able to make agreeable compromises across the aisle, but unafraid to stand up to the Republicans when needed – an obvious dig at Rothman’s decision.
Rothman’s campaign, which was highly criticized by local daily newspapers that instead endorsed Pascrell, may have been responsible, as well, for the lower-than- expected turnout in the Bergen County precincts where he had the edge. Going into the primary, the numbers favored Rothman’s candidacy.
For the Jewish community, Rothman’s loss means one less friend and ally in Congress.
Although on most issues not much daylight could be found between Pascrell and Rothman, the degree to which each supported Israel during their time in the House of Representatives varied greatly. Rothman is a staunch supporter of the State of Israel. Moreover, he was strategically placed on the armed services subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Pascrell, on the other hand, was one of the signers of a now infamous 2010 letter criticizing Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Concern is already being expressed that Pascrell will be move closer to the anti-Israel Arab-American base that was essential to his victory Tuesday.
That sets up an interesting battle between Pascrell and Boteach, who won the GOP nomination on Tuesday and will now make a strong case for the district’s Jewish vote. Boteach faces an uphill battle in the fall in the district, which strongly favors Democrats, but his battle would have been even steeper if Rothman had been his opponent. The rabbi benefits, as well, from his place in popular culture and the name recognition that comes with it. (Boteach is on hiatus as a columnist for this newspaper.)
“I will be focusing my candidacy on re-establishing a sense of values in American life,” Boteach told The Jewish Standard in a telephone call from Jerusalem, where he attended his sister-in-law’s wedding and met on Wednesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “What I will not do is seek to divide this community. I will reach out now, as I always have, to Arab-Americans, and I will continue to support, as I always have, their quest for just treatment under the law. I will not allow my campaign to deteriorate into an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ battle, and I urge Rep. Pascrell to do the same.”
In the 5th C.D., Gussen, who is Orthodox, faces an even more difficult battle, going up against one of the most conservative members of the House. By the numbers, this race is Garrett’s to lose. The new 5th C.D. encompasses much of Bergen County, including parts of Teaneck, and stretches over a large portion of northern New Jersey.