Democratic Challenger Harbors High Hopes in 5th District
But incumbent GOP congressman says issues transcend redrawn boundaries
- October 22, 2012
By Mary Barr Mann, NJSpotlight.com
New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District has been in Republican hands for nearly 70 years, butAdam Gussen -- the Democratic challenger to incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett -- says the district has become “eminently competitive” for his party.
Indeed, a recent Bergen County Republican Organization poll shows a tight race — with Garrett ahead of Gussen by only 2 percentage points -- despite the fact that Gussen has relatively little name recognition and funding.
Yet the race is not on the national radar; neither party is targeting the race.
Garrett has held the seat for the past 10 years, fending off successive Democratic challengers and earning a reputation as the most conservative congressman from New Jersey and one of the most conservative in the nation.
This year, he faces both Gussen and Patricia Alessandrini, the Green party candidate.
Garrett’s air of invincibility was reinforced last spring when Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9th ), whose hometown was redrawn into the 5th, opted to move to the newly constituted 9th and challenge fellow Democrat and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell — unsuccessfully.
The newly constituted 5th, which sits at the top of New Jersey like a sideways L, includes most of Warren and Sussex counties, a few Passaic municipalities, and parts of Bergen County
During the last decade, the district was more rural, including all of Warren and parts of Passaic and Sussex counties, with some suburban areas in Bergen County. As a result of redistricting, the district lost some of more rural Warren County, while more urban parts of Bergen County were added. The Bergen municipalities added are Lodi, Bogota, Hackensack, Maywood, Fair Lawn and part of Teaneck.
Democrats have the registration advantage in some of the added communities. Nearly three-quarters of the district’s population lives in Bergen.
Gussen, who is the deputy mayor of Teaneck and has served on the council for six years, said voter registration numbers in the newly redrawn district bode well for his campaign.
Prior to 2011, the district leaned more heavily Republican, making it “almost impossible” for Democrats who ran against Garrett, Gussen said. In 2010, 31 percent of registered voters were Republicans, while 23 percent were Democrats with the rest unaffiliated. Redistricting has narrowed that gap, although the GOP still holds an advantage, with about 28 percent of those registered to 25 percent Democrats.
“When we look at the numbers we are encouraged by what we see,” said Gussen. He said the addition of such core strong Democratic towns like Hackensack and Teaneck, Fair Lawn Maywood and Lodi have made “an unbelievable difference.”
But Bob Yudin, chairman of the Bergen County Republican Organization, pointed to the GOP poll that put Garrett ahead of Gussen by only a 46-percent o 44-percent margin as confirmation of Garrett’s strong position. That’s because Bergen also has the largest number of registered Democrats.
“So for Garrett to come out of Bergen ahead, after all the other counties are polled, Garrett will win going away,” Yudin said.
Gussen, 39, has been dismissed by many political watchers because of his relatively low name recognition and comparatively meager fundraising – through June 30 he had not raised enough money to require filing a report with the Federal Election Commission. He said he could not provide more current fundraising numbers because his campaign staff was still tallying it. The next reports are due to be released Oct. 15.
He should be known by loyal Democrats, having won the June primary by defeating former U.S. Marine Jason Castle and Lyndon LaRouche Democrat Diane Sare.
But Gussen hopes to profit from the choice Rothman made not to challenge Garrett: “Whether right or wrong, Rothman made the decision that he made and it opened the opportunity for another Democrat to step into the 5th District and into a competitive race.”
See More on Patch
- Former Gov. Whitman: Vote For Women, Minorities and Chris Christie
- Report: Contractors Paid for Election Night Party Celebrating Bergen Democrats
- Christie Urges Republicans to Look Beyond 2013, Praises Bergen County [VIDEO]
- FDU Poll Shows Booker with Commanding Lead in Senate Race
- Christie Has Huge Lead In Governor's Race, Poll Shows