By David Cruz
It was supposed to be close, a race between two old friends battling for one congressional seat in New Jersey’s Ninth District. It captured the attention of political observers all over the country, but when the polls closed, the drama quickly disappeared.
He entered to the theme from Rocky and a standing ovation from a gymnasium full of supporters. Bill Pascrell, who almost no one picked to beat Steve Rothman, emerged from the state’s most watched and most ferociously fought primary, a surprise winner, cementing his street fighter’s rep and proving that a puncher’s always got a shot.
“I cannot thank you enough,” said Pascrell, dressed in shirt sleeves and surrounded by campaign staff. “This race was a tough race, but we were tough, too. We were tough.”
This was the campaign many Democrats would have preferred didn’t happen. As many feared, it turned into an acrimonious battle between the two friends, although by the end of the campaign, Pascrell was using air quotes when he used the term to describe his opponent. Last night, he thanked Rothman for lighting a fire under his campaign.
“I want to thank, if I may, Congressman Steve Rothman, for making me appreciate even more the service I can provide for New Jersey’s constituents, day in and day out,” he said. “He helped me strengthen my voice in the struggle against the Tea Party extremists in Washington … I wish you well, Steve. Thanks for your many years of service to the people of New Jersey.”
Pascrell’s overwhelming showing in Passaic County, where he beat Rothman 5 to 1, was one of the biggest reasons for the win, but it wasn’t the only one. The tone of Rothman’s campaign may also have turned some voters off.
“I think when candidates run something that isn’t true to them, I think voters sense something is kind of off,” observed Alfred Doblin, the Editorial Page Editor for The Record. “Pascrell was extraordinarily energized. He did what he does well. He’s a retail politician. Forget about the Internet and what people can do online. Bill Pascrell does it door to door, wearing out pairs of shoes, and I think he did that.”
As for Rothman, whose career in public service spans 25 years, he said this race was probably his last.
“It’s been a great privilege to help so many people and help my community and my state and my country,” he told NJ Today’s Desiree Taylor. “I’m going to think about what my future will hold in the next six months as I finish my work in my 16th year in the House of Representatives, smell the roses a little bit. I may even take a vacation.”
Pascrell will take on Republican Schmuley Boteach in the fall. The rabbi, author and TV personality won his primary last night. While Boteach is not the standard Republican (he’s much more moderate, especially in these Tea Party times), he still faces an uphill battle, and might want to talk to Pascrell about how to pull an upset when nobody expects you to win.