By David Cruz
The fifth congressional district of today is not the same fifth congressional district that elected Scott Garrett back in 2003. A 2010 redistricting jammed a lot more of Bergen County into the district, which has emboldened Democrats. This year, in Josh Gottheimer, they think they finally have a candidate who can take out the seven-time incumbent, even if it means turning the race into a bare knuckle street fight.
“My opponent, he’s in a tough spot because people are finding out who he is,” Gottheimer said. “He doesn’t want people to see the facts, the real facts about him and his record, and his record is not a great record. It’s a Tea Party record that’s not consistent with our values.”
At the Hampton Diner on the western, heavily Republican end of the district, Garrett fits in some campaigning before sitting down to talk. He says the negative tone of the campaign has made it almost impossible to get a real discussion of issues.
So, what does that go to?
“It goes to the character; doesn’t it go to character? I mean much of his talk is not on issues. It’s not on taxes or this or that or other things. Much of his talk is on character and he does it in a vitriolic, is a good word, or a nasty way,” Garrett said.
In a state where congressional races are rarely close, the fifth district race has become the marquee matchup, especially since Democrats are fairly comfortable that their top of the ticket candidate will carry Jersey. But neither candidate is tying himself too closely to the top of the ticket, even though Gottheimer has ties to the Clintons going back to his days as a speechwriter for President Clinton.
“Scott Garrett’s not running against Hillary Clinton. He’s running against me. Just like I’m not running against Donald Trump. I don’t blame Scott Garrett for Donald Trump’s assaulting women or the way he talks to women. I think people should focus on the differences between us. And there’s things, by the way, that I really disagree with Secretary Clinton about like her tax plan — I think they’re aimed at one group of people and I don’t think that’s the right answer,” Gottheimer said.
Is Garrett supporting the top of the ticket with gusto?
“Sure, I’m supporting the Republican ticket from the local councilman over here Republican all the way up to the president of the United States Donald Trump as well so the Republican platform on the top side, the national side. We can’t have eight more years of failed economic policy where people can’t get jobs,” Garrett said.
Since 2010, Democrats have been whittling away at the size of Garrett’s victories; two years ago they thought they had him. But Garrett has proven to be a tough opponent to unseat and he says, regardless of the enthusiasm from the left in 2016, he expects to survive this challenge as well.