Primary elections are typically low key affairs in New Jersey, party power brokers prefer the lack of competition for seats in Congress and unpaid party offices that largely do little more than elected leaders at at the local and county levels.
The 2018 nominations involve a number of unexpectedly serious contested races, suggesting that the pitifully low turnout cultivated over time could become a trap for insiders awash in money but detached from the constituents in whose fate lie the fortunes of political insiders.
A year ago, nobody would have believed that Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) would be fighting for his life in a match against a black Rutgers graduate who was not even born when the congressman first went to Washington.
Javahn Walker, the Democrat challenging Pallone in the June 5 Democratic primary election, waged a low budget assault that slammed the political insider after he tossed softball questions at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a campaign contributor whose technology allowed
Fresh off a criminal trial that failed to exonerate him, Robert Menendez finds his 25 years in Congress subject to frequent question and criticism as he faces a vigorous opponent in progressive Democrat Lisa McCormick.
Power brokers are plagued by the swarm of new challengers, who no longer respect ancient taboos or seek the approval of party bosses and insiders. As exciting has these early contests may be for voters, they are a far cry form the standard issue sleeper of past years.
Most of those primaries have come and gone without even a challenger in most cases.
That’s exactly how like it; they don’t want to waste resources sorting out their own representatives for the general election, and they don’t want internal family squabbling casting potential victors in a bad light. So they pull strings and cut deals and do whatever they can to empty the battlefield for their anointed choices, or so said one newspaper editorial of the practice.
Walker and McCormick are just two of the high profile contenders seeking election in this stormy season. Progressive Peter Jacob is making a run at establishment favorite Tom Malinowski, William O. Henry is a black social worker with sights set on removing longtime Congressman Bill Pascrell in a Paterson-based district.
A black and female retired educator, Tanzie Youngblood, is waging a fiery contest against Jeff Van Drew, a white state legislator who is a favorite of the NRA gun lobby and other conservative groups more often associated with Republicans. Some progressive Democrats say Van Drew would be right at home in Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
Jim Keady is a left wing activist who was told to “shut up and sit down” when he confronted Gov. Chris Christie over bungled repairs and wasted money in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. He is taking a run against military veteran Josh Welle for the right to challenge Republican pro-lifer Chris Smith.
Another battleground pits Donald Norcross, the brother of the undisputed South Jersey political boss George Norcross, against Robert Carlson, a progressive activist running with strong support from remnants of the Bernie Sanders campaign organization.
While the incumbents have raised far more money than the challengers, sources say dissatisfaction with losses to Republicans since 2008 and fears of a repeat performance have invigorated support for the more liberal and aggressive newcomers among rank and file voters.
In some respects, it is easy to see how the under funded challengers have a powerful based of dedicated volunteers that shames the richer but isolated establishment politicians.
Bitter attacks charging them with being clones of Bernie Sanders and dismissing the threats have become commonplace among party insiders, but the progressives offer a consistent message of opportunity and hope that getting back to its New Deal roots will give them a chance to make more Americans a part of a health coalition that can hold on to power welL into the future.
“It was not so long ago that Americans could nce complete a course of free public education, which prepared one to get a 40-hour per week job that paid enough to have a really good life and retire at 60,” said McCormick, the single mother taking on Menendez. “That is gone now — as people struggle to make ends meet with two or three jobs — but I know how Americans can fix the economy because top tax rates got cut from 70% to 36% just before America’s middle class started going down the tubes.”
“Now working people are paying $400 million more in federal taxes than ExxonMobile because highly profitable corporations are getting refunds,” she said.
McCormick said too much money is being wasted on war and other reckless behavior, noting that the House Armed Services Committee voted 60-1 to approve the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes about $716 billion in total military spending, including funds for overseas adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other locations.
“That’s three times as much as America spent on defense prior to 9-11 and we are no safer,” said McCormick. “The quality of life has fallen in the last 25 years and we are heading further into the abyss with conventional politics, which is all about money. It is time to put people over profit.”
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