House Republicans did a tremendous job of preserving their majorities nation-wide last Tuesday, but one of the handful of Republicans who lost their seat was our own Scott Garrett.
Garrett (R-NJ-05), a champion of conservative causes, was a dutiful servant of his constituents but, on the political front, often his own worst enemy. A series of controversial remarks played into the hands of Democrats who cast him as out-of-touch. Decisive Trump victories in his district weren’t enough to offset the onslaught of outside special interest cash and the increasingly blue nature of his district’s Bergen towns.
What’s certain in the aftermath? Not much.
With a potentially much more favorable electorate for Republicans in the 2018 midterms and a district which still leans Republican on paper, Gottheimer will be a top target of the national GOP and the race in 2018 will be every bit as competitive as 2018. It could go the way of NJ-03 which Republicans dropped for the first time in a long time in 2008 only to win it back with Jon Runyan just two years later in 2010.
But who are the likely contenders?
A lot can happen in two years, but sitting here today, these are the names being most commonly discussed in Republican circles:
Congressman Scott Garrett
Duh, right? And for what it’s worth, Congress is riddled with representatives who lost only to come back and win again. Up in New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district, the Democrat and Republican have alternated that state’s seat in the last four election cycles! It is not out of the question that Garrett could try to mount a comeback in 2018 when Democrat turnout is presumably tamer in bluer states but, given his baggage from this year’s brutal race and his falling-out with financial sector donors, as of now it looks unlikely. Stay tuned. His movements over the coming months will give us a clue.
Businessman Chuck Shotmeyer
The Shotmeyer name is synonymous with success in North Jersey. The current BCRO finance chair is independently wealthy and could self-finance the race; his extremely successful tenure in his current role also shows he could raise the money quick. In a climate which may continue to favor outsiders in 2018, Shotmeyer should probably be considered the favorite if he runs. He’s also closely aligned with the establishments circles who award lines and fill coffers.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi
Those who bemoaned Garrett during his tenure in Congress talked endlessly about the purportedly ‘good old’ days when this was the “Roukema seat,” held by a moderate Republican woman who easily won re-election in the diverse, sprawling North Jersey district. While her 2017 plans are still unclear (Senate run? At some point?) and Schepisi is certainly a few steps to the right of Garrett’s female predecessor, were the Assemblywoman to enter the 2018 congressional race and get past a primary from her right, she could certainly emerge as the strongest general election candidate to defeat Gottheimer at least in the district’s newer Bergen territory. Note how she was never shy about criticizing Garrett publicly during some of his public missteps.
Freeholder Maura DeNicola
A victim of the BCRO infighting from which the party is only beginning to hopefully recover, DeNicola had the misfortune of having to run in 2016 and not 2017 while the Bergen organization remains in transition. She probably never had a chance for reasons this blog has highlighted many, many times. However, despite her loss in last week’s reelection bid, few expect the well-liked two-term soon-to-be Freeholder to fade away, and she is already being rumored for another Freeholder run, an Assembly run in District 40, and even perhaps as another possible successor to Garrett.
Assemblyman Parker Space
What if the seat doesn’t return to Bergen County in 2018?
Let’s play what-if: If all or most of the above mentioned candidates run, a primary similar to the one Garrett won back in the day could occur, allowing for a united (and decidedly hardcore conservative) Sussex County to push their candidate, then Assemblyman Space, a rugged outdoorsman and the candidate closest to the ideological mold of Garrett out of everyone on this list, could prove to be a very strong option. He’s a hero of the conservative movement in Northwestern New Jersey and extremely popular in his home county where he used to serve as a freeholder before joining the legislature.
The biggest question would be whether the straight-talking, Trenton-loathing Space would have any interest in spending most of his time in the only swamp (D.C.) bigger than Trenton.
Strategist Kellyanne Conway
She’s likely to land some sort of role in the Trump Administration but, as of now, the Donald’s 2016 campaign manager lives with her husband and four children in ritzy Alpine, New Jersey. White House backing isn’t a bad way to launch a career in elected office IF she wanted to make the jump. If is the operative modifier since, in terms of both power and money, heading to Congress could be construed as a demotion.