Two years ago, the Democratic Party thought they had an ideal scenario: a strong Democratic opponent for Congressman Scott Garrett (R-NJ5). Garrett is the most conservative member of New Jersey’s congressional delegation even denying funding for Hurricane Sandy relief that had great impacted his state. Former Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ9) chose to challenge Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ9) instead and ended up losing after a nasty primary while the party struggled to find a strong enough opponent for Garrett as he got reelected.
Two years later, the party seems much more organized and focused on defeating Garrett in a district that is not as strongly Republican as it once was before redistricting in 2011. Roy Cho has been nominated as the Democratic nominee and has been working to garner a strong backing from his party to create a large enough force to overtake the incumbent congressman.
Cho’s campaign has been very blunt and optimistic when discussing this election:
Our plan, plain and simple, is to win in 2014 and for Roy to be running for reelection in 2016.
Cho himself would add,
This is somebody (Congressman Garrett) who voted against the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, against the Voting Rights Act and initially was against federal funding for Hurricane Sandy victims, on principle, because he was against aid for Hurricane Katrina victims. (Garrett voted) against raising the minimum wage, against the extension of unemployment benefits, against child safety locks on handguns and against reopening the [federal] government following the shutdown (in 2013). All these issues should be important to you regardless of whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. These are American issues that affect the middle of this country. We have an opportunity this election cycle to show the rest of the country that the Tea Party has no place in northern New Jersey. Despite people telling me that this is an uphill battle, I tell them this country was founded by underdogs. We have a moral obligation to help people in this country move up, and it’s in our collective self-interest to do so.
Among the Democrats putting their support behind Cho has been state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), whose district is part of the 5th Congressional District.
It is that Bergen County portion that is going to change the dynamics in this upcoming election between Roy Cho and the other unnamed person. Conservative is too kind a word to give to him. He has voted no on every single human rights, progressive, thoughtful issue that comes before Congress, and he is one of the main reasons that Congress is as dysfunctional as it is. We are represented by someone completely out of touch with the people in this room. (Garrett) makes (Governor) Chris Christie look like a liberal.
As the campaign moved into the final couple months, the issue of Hurricane Sandy became a major topic of conversation in the race. As mentioned, Garrett stood alone opposing necessary aide for Hurricane Sandy relief. The congressman even went as far as to produce a mailer that stated his support for rebuilding the state after the horrendous disaster two years ago despite his “no” votes when aide was needed. Cho would not sit idly by as Garrett did this.
It’s beyond incomprehensible that Scott Garrett would actually have the nerve to send political mail to constituents who were displaced from their homes in hopes they will forget he laid down on the job when they needed his help. His efforts to take credit for providing Sandy relief when he had to be shamed into grudgingly helping his constituents are simply appalling.
He would continue,
Scott Garrett really must think his constituents have short memories to forget his foot-dragging and silence in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. When our state needed leaders, Scott Garrett was nowhere to be found. It’s beyond incomprehensible that Scott Garrett would actually have the nerve to send political mail to constituents who were displaced from their homes in hopes they will forget he laid down on the job when they needed his help.
He would also add,
New Jerseyans, regardless of their political beliefs, needed help. Members of Congress were able to come together with a Republican governor (Chris Christie) to seek the federal assistance that we needed here. You had one member of Congress in New Jersey who dragged his feet, who refused to sign the initial letter signed by all Republicans and Democrats seeking federal aid for New Jerseyans seeking help. That one member of Congress was Scott Garrett.
Weinberg would add,
Scott Garrett’s attempt to take credit for Hurricane Sandy relief would be comical if it wasn’t so insulting to the communities he let down in the wake of the storm. When our constituents most needed help, he offered them nothing but hemming and hawing. When Democrats and Republicans across the state were working together, he sat in his Tea Party corner unmoved. This mail piece is an insult to every displaced family and every community whose cries for help fell on his deaf ears. His hypocrisy is astonishing.
State Senator Bob Gordon (D-38) would also exclaim,
Throughout the storm’s aftermath…Scott Garrett was noticeably absent, just as he was for another part of the country after Katrina. For him to try to claim credit as a ‘leader’ behind even one penny of storm aid to our communities is a fanciful turn of revisionist history. Residents of Bergen County remember the storm well, and they remember who was with them in its aftermath, and who wasn’t.
Garrett’s campaign would respond by stating,
The facts speak for themselves. Rep. Garrett’s record in the aftermath of the Superstorm is exemplary. He authored the first bill to aid the victims — the first bill signed into law by President Obama in the 113th Congress. He supported the Sandy aid package. He joined his colleagues in sending 10 letters on the matter, including to the president, FEMA, HUD, and HHS. And, most importantly, Rep. Garrett was personally on the ground helping victims clean up. The Cho campaign’s specious political attack has no basis in reality, ignores key facts, and cheapens the genuine loss caused by the storm.
Cho would continue to make his case to voters in the district as the campaign moved forward:
All politics are local, and voters have become incredibly sophisticated. That’s a lesson Eric Cantor learned in Virginia (referring to the Republican congressman and former House Majority Leader, who unexpectedly lost the Republican primary in June and soon after retired). (Garrett) is telling voters in a highly educated and sophisticated voting district that he was there for them when he was not. If government is going to work on the behalf of people who need help, then we need everyone to work together. In the Fifth Congressional District, we deserve real leadership and real representation that is willing to put politics aside. We are going to expose Scott Garrett’s real record. We are fully confident that we’re going to be able to pull off a big upset.
He would add,
Americans here in northern New Jersey need help, and we are being represented in Congress by someone who doesn’t believe that there is any role for government to play. (Garrett) went against his own governor (Chris Christie), a Republican governor, on Hurricane Sandy aid initially on principle because he had been against Hurricane Katrina aid. He represents the ‘politics as usual’ that turns so many people off against Washington, D.C., turns so many people off to what it means to serve in government, and turns so many people off to what it means to be a part of the American Dream. If we all come together, I’m fully confident that on November 4, we are going to pull off one of the biggest political upsets we’ve even seen.
Cho would be able to add Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to his list of supporters and the senator would take aim at Garrett while campaigning for Cho.
For twelve years, our communities in the Fifth Congressional District have suffered under the policies of someone who is so extreme that if Republicans, Democrats and independents in the district fully understood what their present representative votes for, they would clearly turn away. He has walked away from having one set of votes in Congress and a different set of things he says back in his district. At the time (of Hurricane Sandy), New Jersey needed a Congressional delegation that stood on its feet to fight for New Jerseyans. But there was one member of the delegation who instead of saying ‘yes’, consistently said ‘let me think about it’. None of it was about good public policy. All of it was about his Tea Party mentality. When New Jerseyans needed a champion, they had someone who closed the door on them .Roy Cho is not Scott Garrett, and that’s why we need to send him to Congress.
The two candidates would continue to make Hurricane Sandy a prominent part of their campaigns as the calendar moved closer to Election Day.
Cho would add to his previous statements by uttering,
This is a credibility issue. A letter was presented to the leadership of both parties to be able to say that everyone should come together and that we need support from the federal government. I don’t care what your idea of government is, but we live in a civilized society and there has to be a role that government can play sometimes. Out of all of the members of the New Jersey legislation, Congressman Garrett did not sign that letter. But for him to put out a mail piece to the members of the Fifth Congressional District claiming that he led the effort to get Hurricane Sandy relief I believe is misleading. The part that (Garrett) favored and put his name on was actually the least controversial part of the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. The part that he favored considered out-dated flood maps, and he made sure that people had insurance pay-outs for the people that had flood insurance. But what about the thousands of other New Jerseyans that didn’t have flood insurance? These people were basically left out to dry.
Garrett would retort,
I sponsored the very first bill to bring Sandy relief to the citizens of New Jersey. I was on nine other letters to try to get relief to the people of the state of New Jersey. On the final appropriations bill, I voted yes. I was there, and I got it done.
The issue of raising the minimum wage has also come up in the race.
When I talk to people who are out of work or not making as much money as they need to support their families, they’re not looking for yet another government handout or top-down approach. What they really want for themselves is a good, paying job. People talk about austerity in the country today. Maybe we need a little more austerity in the spending down in Washington, as opposed to…putting so much austerity on the American taxpayer.
A strong middle class is the backbone of this country’s economy. The people in the top income brackets are investing their money, and the people in the middle-income bracket are the people who are spending money and who are keeping the economy going. This isn’t about playing class warfare or vilifying rich people. It’s about what’s in our nation’s collective economic self-interest. This is a stimulus that we need.
As the race waged on, Cho seemed to be building momentum and a poll in mid-October would provide promise for the challenger.
A Monmouth University poll showed Garrett holding a mere five point edge 48-43 over Cho.
For Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute,
This race was not even a blip on most political prognosticators’ radar screens. It should be now. Nobody was looking at this race. I think the Democrats should take a close look at this right now. It may be one of their one or two last pick-up opportunities.
Garrett has not had an election since being elected in 2002 that was closer than 11 points.
The issue of Hurricane Sandy was providing some assistance for Cho as voters were relatively split in their view of how well Garrett responded to the disaster with 38% saying he did a good job and 35% saying he did a bad job. 27% had no opinion. Garrett was polling better when it came to how voters felt about how well he was assisting the victims as 47% said he did a good job and 28 said he did a bad job. 25% were not sure.
Murray would add,
While the Fifth District was relatively spared from Sandy’s wrath, a significant number of voters there have doubts about whether Garrett’s actions were helpful for hard-hit residents in other parts of the state.
He would continue,
Cho has an opportunity in this race, partially because Cho is running a very good campaign, and because Garrett was not engaged. Once Garrett realized that this was a close race, he decided he was going to spend some of his money, get out and meet some voters, and actually talk to reporters for the first time in years. Without the national Democrats coming in to aid Cho and offset Garrett’s renewed energy in this race, the momentum Cho had earlier in the month has dissipated. It is an unusual occurrence that the incumbent is behaving differently that he has in the past. The question is which way does this go.
Cho was polling better in Bergen County as well as Passaic County while Garrett was doing better in the western counties of Sussex and Warren that make up this district. Garrett had the edge among men while Cho was ahead among women. In what could a crucial swing group; Independents favor Garrett by 3 points.
The closeness of the race would fire up supporters like Weinberg.
We are very enthusiastic about his candidacy and now to get it backed up in a poll – I think he can win. It’s important to us who want good government for Roy Cho to win. With three weeks to go, with this kind of polling information and what we know about Roy’s work ethic, it’s easier for me to raise funds. He (Garrett) stands for nothing that anyone I know in Bergen County believes. For him, there is no role for government. That’s the way he was years ago in the assembly and the years have not progressed his thinking. If the average voter knew that he doesn’t believe in government and that government has no role, they’d vote him out. He is so far to the right, he will scare some tea party people.
With Cho doing well, two major Democrats would join the growing group of supporters and make final pushes down the stretch. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) and Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ8) would add their voices to the electoral mix.
We can give them whatever bodies on the ground that we can. They can count on us. We’re here to help. I have offered to both Roy Cho and (Bergen Democratic) Chairman Lou Stellato any resource that we can offer. Labor will be a part of it, too.
While Sires would exclaim,
I sent money to Cho. I sent money to the party organization. I offered my support if they need to do anything with the Hispanic community. I told them that they can use my name on anything that they do.
While it would seem that Cho would have momentum in his favor with time to spare to continue to close the gap, some were not putting too much in what came from the mid-October poll.
One such individual was David Wasserman, the House Editor of the Cook Political Report.
We’re very wary of one poll in the race, and there’s very little reason to believe anything has changed drastically in the race. Right now I’m still very skeptical. We’re going to wait over the next week to see if the race warrants a ratings change.
Wasserman’s analysis would prove to provide some truth as two weeks later, the 5 point edge was doubled to an 10 point edge for Garrett in another Monmouth University poll with less than a week to go before the election. Garrett has a 52-42 edge over Cho among likely voters.
Murray would outline,
This race was flying under the radar just one month ago. Garrett was running a phone-it-in campaign that was compounded by a misstep around Sandy recovery. The incumbent is now much more engaged in the race. While Cho has run a strong campaign, the national environment, as well as the underlying fundamentals of this district, are too favorable to Republicans for him to overcome a full Garrett offensive without outside help from national Democrats. That help never materialized, but it may not have been enough this year once Garrett swung into campaign mode.
Most of the national attention in the state has gone to the race taking place in the 3rd Congressional District while this race was fairly unrecognized until late.
The two biggest factors in Garrett’s favor the last couple weeks of the race were how Independents were moving more towards him as he was also gaining a slight edge in the ever important Bergen County.
Both campaigns would respond to the poll.
For the Garrett campaign:
Congressman Garrett takes no election for granted and continues to work hard to reach each and every voter, sharing his ideas to grow our economy and help businesses create more jobs. New Jerseyans are eager to get our economy back on track, and the people of the Fifth District know that Scott Garrett is the best man for that job.
For the Cho campaign:
The numbers simply do not match the reality we see and hear every day. There is growing excitement and momentum for Roy Cho, from Democrats and from independents and moderate Republicans who are tired of Scott Garrett’s smears. This race will be won on the ground on Tuesday. We are as confident as ever heading into Election Day.
Cho has performed better than most who have challenged Garrett over the last 12 years. He has been able to fundraise well which is important against any incumbent but has not been able to build his name recognition and favorability numbers. Slipping in Bergen County in the final days and not getting enough Independent support might be the two biggest things working against him from overcoming Garrett in the end. Depending on the outcome, the Democratic Party might wonder if more was done nationally like with the race in the 3rd Congressional District. If more was done and the polls were reflective of that, the conservative incumbent might have been taken down this cycle. It appears Garrett will get up to around that double digit margin. It might not be too long before the conversation for two years from now starts up again.