Featured Race: CD 5 and what might have been

Combatants

REPUBLICAN: Incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5)

Versus

DEMOCRAT: Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen

Background

Post congressional redistricting, this was supposed to have been New Jersey’s answer to Homer’s Iliad, with U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman in the role of Achilles and Garrett playing Hector.

But as everyone knows, it didn’t work out that way, as Rothman opted out of an assault on North Jersey’s Republican ramparts and instead chose to go move out of his redistricted home turf and challenge U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9).

Pascrell would go on to knock Rothman cold, but not before several candidates pondered taking the shot at Garrett many Democrats craved. Among the possible candidates, former Giants star Harry Carson, Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-38), Passaic Freeholder Terry Duffy, and Power and Politics star Jim McQueeny all struck a pose suggesting imminent entrance into the race. And all eventually bowed out, leaving little-known Teaneck Deputy Mayor Gussen and military veteran Jason Castle to compete in a little watched Democratic Primary.

Gussen won the backing of the Bergen County Democratic Committee not because the organization loved him, but because he submitted his paperwork on time.

Meanwhile, Garrett – the New Jersey Congressional Delegation’s only movement conservative – relished the backing of the Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) and fretted not a Republican Primary of significance.

When Gussen beat Castle by roughly a 3,000-vote margin, he earned the general election right to face Garrett, and attempt to make the case that the Wantage congressman’s record amounted to a nine-year Tea Party tirade.

Garrett could saunter toward Election Day amused by the Democrats’ insistence on labeling every Washington, D.C. problem a function of right fringe lunacy while failing to mobilize a credible challenge against him.

Key Dynamics

Gussen must try to sell the argument that Garrett is too Tea Party crazy for the district while simultaneously having to explain why Carson, Wagner, Duffy, etc., didn’t think Garrett was rightwing enough and the newly formed district sufficiently winnable to put their own political capital at risk.

The new 5th still contains more registered Republicans (121,466) than Democrats (107,942) and the Republican leanings of 200,871 more voters.

But a Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) poll obtained by PolitickerNJ.com gives a chance to a Democratic challenger – even Gussen. The poll done by Voter Survey Service shows Garrett receiving 46% (95), Gussen getting 44% (91), 9% (19) undecided and 1% (2) of voters backing “none” or “other” in the Bergen portion of the 5th District.

The trouble is Gussen lacks name ID, money and organization, all the elements that once made the potential match-up of Rothman/Garrett compelling.

On his website, his endorsements page reads “coming soon.”

Money on his Federal Election Commission (FEC) report?

Zero.

Organizationally, Gussen had the love of the Joe Ferriero-era Democratic Party, so he can’t depend on the barricade presence of state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Teaneck.

Neither can he claim any overkill backing from the Lou Stellato-led Bergen County Democrats.

Outcome

While political insiders will always wonder what the well-connected and federally charged up Rothman might have been able to do in a contrast-laden contest with Garrett, little mystery pervades this walk over cameo by the state’s fiercest Tea Party denizen. 

"Historically, the media has had two caricatures of Republicans. We are either stupid or evil."
—U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)