Mercer convention filled with those already beaten by Smith

TRENTON – Among the Mercer County Democrats who gathered for Saturday's convention were three people who had fought the same fight as Josh Zeitz and lost.

United States Rep. Chris Smith has been beating Democrats in the Fourth Congressional District for 27 years, but the assembled supporters had high hopes for Zeitz.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) introduced the latest Democratic challenger as a “very accomplished scholar and really exciting candidate.”

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, Washington Township Municipal Chairman Larry Schneider and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) lost to Smith in 1992, 1998 and 2000 respectively.

“I’m celebrating my tenth anniversary this year,” Schneider dead-panned.

“Look, in a campaign like this you need energy and money. I had the energy. I didn’t have the money. In Ocean County, the press didn’t cover the race until three weeks before Election Day. You could be creative but that only goes so far.”

Holt acknowledged it would be a tough fight against Smith, whose support from organized labor is traditionally bigger than his backing from business.

“He won’t win labor against Chris Smith,” Holt said. “But he can show how he will be able to deliver for working families even better.”

“Chris Smith is vulnerable,” Schneider said. “The congressman has aligned himself with Bush, and that can be highlighted in a successful campaign against him.”

Schneider said Zeitz would have to challenge Smith with no less than $250,000 if he wants to give himself a shot at winning. Zeitz raised $98,000 for the campaign in the last quarter, according to campaign manager Steven D’Amico.

Zeitz is an historianand former Rutgers Universitylecturer who just penned his third book, an examination of the political cultural of the 1970s now in its draft form.

“It’s published by the same publishing house used by Barack Obama,” Zeitz said with a laugh, noting that Random House gives books by the senator from Illinois priority.

"I’m an undertaker by trade, so when I bury somebody, they don’t come back."
—Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato