In New Jersey, two congressional districts represented by Democratic incumbents, the 6th and 12th, are not yet on most political handicapper’s radar screens, but they probably should be.
In the 12th District, Democratic Rep. Rush Holt has served as representative in Congress since 1999. The 12th District stretches across the state from Seabright on the coast to Pennsylvania. It includes parts of Democratic strongholds like East Brunswick, Princeton and parts of North Trenton. It also includes parts of? Republican-heavy areas like Hunterdon County.
GovTrack.com gives Rep. Holt a “far-left Democrat” rating. He has voted with congressional leadership 98.2 percent of the time, and voted “yes” on some of the past two year’s most divisive legislative initiatives – particularly health care reform and cap-and-trade, a number of key provisions of which his office proudly claims to have written.
The last time Holt faced a serious challenge was in 2000 by former congressman and Senate candidate Dick Zimmer. Holt won that election by less than 500 votes. Since 2000, however, Holt has been able to garner close to or over 60 percent of the vote in every reelection campaign he has waged. His challenger this year is former Morgan Stanley Managing Director Scott Sipprelle. Sipprelle has received several key endorsements, including the of the Trenton city council president Geroge Muschal (the rest of the city council endorsed Holt) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who hosted a fundraiser for the Sipprelle on September 24th. Rider University will host a debate between these two candidates on October 14th.
In the 6th District, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone has served in congress since 1988, originally representing the 3rd District before reapportionment sent him to the 6th. The 6th District hugs the New Jersey coast under Staten Island and includes Asbury Park and Long Beach as well as most parts of the cities of New Brunswick and Edison.
GovTrack gives Pallone a less partisan rating than Holt, but Pallone is the sponsor of more bills and is a more active member of congress. He is quoted, after helping pass health care reform legislation, saying “This is my bill. This is not Obama’s bill, and this is not Nancy Pelosi’s bill. This is my bill.” With health care reform’s popularity reaching all time lows since its passage, his Republican opposition has made regular use of this quote.
Pallone has received no less than 67 percent of the vote in his last three reelection bids. This year he faces Highland mayor Anna Little. Little is a Tea Party favorite with significant support from outside the state. Little upset wealthy newspaper publisher Diane Gooch in the Republican primary and was initially shunned by the state’s GOP establishment until recently. An August 23rd poll conducted by the Republican Firm National Research Inc. showed Pallone with 40 to Little’s 34 percent of the vote with 26 percent remaining undecided.
In 2009, Gov. Chris Christie carried the 6th District by 15.5 percentage points. In the 12th District, Gov. Christie carried 4 of its 5 counties. Middlesex County, a traditionally Democratic stronghold in which both the 6th and 12th Districts take significant parts of, Christie won 48 to 44 percent. Christie’s victory included East Brunswick (the heart of the 12th District) which Christie won with 54 percent of the vote. Of that district’s constituent counties, only Mercer County (Trenton, Princeton) voted for former Gov. Jon Corzine, and by a sizable 54 to 41 percent margin. Rep. Holt will need to get voters out in Ewing and Trenton to remain competitive. Similarly, Pallone will have to get voters to the polls in Perth Amboy and New Brunswick. If the voters who came out for Christie come out again for Little and Sipprelle, both Representatives Holt and Pallone would be in serious trouble.
The news gets worse for incumbent Democrats. A Pew poll, released today, shows that President Obama has lost the support of many key demographics in the state. Among white men without college degrees, the President has a 71 percent disapproval rating. White men with college degrees give the President only marginally better 67 percent disapproval. White women give the president better marks overall, but still in negative territory; 57 percent of white women with college degrees disapprove of President Obama while white women with only some college or less give the president a 65 percent disapproval rating. Only younger and minority voters remain largely supportive of the President. In the 6th District, 67.5 percent of the population is white. In the 12th District, the white population makes up 75.4 percent of that district.
As competitive races in New Jersey go, political observers are focused on the 3rd District. It is a competitive district with a Cook PVI of R+1. New Jersey’s 3rd District is represented by freshman Democrat Rep. John Adler who rode Obama’s wave election into office in 2008. He is in a tight race with former NFL player Jon Runyan (and coverage of this race has noted some possible shenanigans from alleged Tea Party pretender and candidate Peter DeStefano). That race, presently favored to remain in Democratic hands, has dominated the coverage of New Jersey’s U.S. House races while a historic shift in the overall electorate is being overlooked. More than New Jersey’s 3rd District is in play this year.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org