Republicans crowd key primary races in New Jersey

Four N.J. GOP primary candidates photos are arranged side by side.

Republican primary contenders, L to R: Paul DeGroot and Toby Anderson, both in the 11th District; Frank Pallotta, 5th District; and Rep. Chris Smith, the longest-serving House member in New Jersey history, 4th District. (Pauldegrootcares; Toby Anderson for Congress; Pallotta for Congress; AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

With New Jersey’s primary a week away, candidates in most of the state’s dozen congressional districts who are facing challengers are campaigning at events, canvassing door to door and making robocalls to try to sway voters.

This year there are more contested primaries and more candidates for Republican nominations as the party hopes to regain some of the seats it lost four years ago during the backlash against former President Donald Trump.

Four of nine Democratic incumbents have challengers, though most are not serious; a tenth Democratic seat is open in the 8th Congressional District based in Hudson County with the retirement of Rep. Albio Sires. The incumbents in swing districts in particular are working to fill their campaign coffers and bolster support in the hope of surviving this year’s midterms in which the presence of Democrat Joe Biden in the White House, as well as high gas prices and inflation, could hurt their chances.

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Voting by mail has been taking place for weeks, with some 195,000 mail-in ballots submitted by the middle of last week. Early in-person voting will begin Friday, June 3 and continue through Sunday, June 5 at limited locations in every county. Not all early voting locations have been posted by the state Division of Elections yet, but they should be available on county election websites and listed on sample ballots that have been, or soon will be, mailed to registered voters’ homes.

Primaries typically attract the most engaged partisans, although unaffiliated voters can show up at the polls, declare a party and vote. Only those already registered can vote. Registered Democrats continue to outnumber Republicans by more than 1 million — 2.5 million versus 1.49 million — but the GOP has closed some of that gap over the last several months. Some 2.36 million registered voters are unaffiliated.

Changes in district boundaries

Many voters will find their district and representative has changed this year; a bipartisan commission redrew the electoral district boundaries last December and chose a map created by the Democrats on that panel. It made three formerly strong Republican districts that Democrats won in 2016 and 2018 more Democratic, while making a fourth more Republican. That shouldn’t matter as much during the primary, as voters can only choose from candidates of their party. Currently, Democrats hold 10 of the state’s dozen House seats.

There are no contests for either party in only two districts — the 9th, based in Passaic County and the 12th, based in Mercer.

NJ Spotlight News’ elections page has information on the districts, the candidates and other election-related issues.

Of the 10 districts that are being contested, several are noteworthy.

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3rd District: Likely to face Kim

In the 3rd District, which covers parts of Burlington, Mercer and Monmouth counties, three Republicans are vying to try to take back a district the party lost in 2018. Bob Healey, a Burlington County business owner, has received the GOP party line endorsement. He is facing first-time candidate Nicholas Ferrara of Hamilton and Ian Smith,  a gym owner who defied the state’s COVID-19 lockdown orders and earlier this year was arrested for a second time for drunk driving. The winner will likely face incumbent Rep. Andy Kim, who has token opposition in the Democratic primary from 24-year-old Reuven Hendler of Beachwood.

4th District: Challengers to the right of Smith

The 4th District Republican primary pits Rep. Chris Smith, the longest-serving House member in New Jersey history, against Mike Crispi and Steve Gray. Long considered conservative, Smith, 69, is now rated as among the most moderate Republicans in the House and is running on his record on such issues as autism research and treatment, human trafficking and opposition to abortion. Crispi, a conservative podcaster being advised by Trump ally Roger Stone, and Gray, a former agent with the FBI are courting the far-right vote. A fourth candidate, Mike Blasi, will appear on the ballot, but he has suspended his campaign. Matthew Jenkins of Colts Neck was the only Democrat to file.

5th District: No word from Trump

Four Republicans are on the ballot in the 5th District in north Jersey, although Fred Schneiderman bowed out earlier this month. Nick DeGregorio won the backing of the Bergen County GOP, while the Passaic and Sussex Republicans are backing Frank Pallotta, who lost to incumbent Democrat Josh Gottheimer two years ago. Sab Skenderi of Wyckoff is also on the ballot. DeGregorio accused Gottheimer of trying to influence the results of the Republican primary by sending out a mailer tying Pallotta to Trump, who endorsed Pallotta two years ago but has not picked a candidate this time around.

7th District: Crowded GOP field

The 7th District — featuring the most crowded field in the state — is likely to be the most competitive district in November. Former state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. is hoping for a rematch against incumbent Democrat Tom Malinowski, who defeated Kean two years ago by a little more than one percentage point. Malinowski has token opposition in his primary from Roger Bacon. Kean’s campaign literature portrays him as having shifted rightward, but he still appears to be the most moderate of the Republicans running. Rounding out the field are: Assemblyman Erik Peterson of Hunterdon County; Phil Rizzo, a 2021 GOP gubernatorial hopeful whose home in New Vernon lies outside the district; Fredon Mayor John Flora; Sterling Schwab, a veteran from Morris County; and Long Valley businessmen Kevin Dorlon and John Henry Isemann.

8th District: Dem leaders muscle in behind Menendez

The 8th District, which straddles the urban intersection of Essex, Hudson and Union counties, has the only open seat. Three Democrats are seeking the party’s nomination, which will all but guarantee a win in the fall. Robert Menendez, son of the state’s senior U.S. senator, has gotten party backing as well as the endorsement of Gov. Phil Murphy and a long list of elected officials. David Ocampo Grajales of Jersey City and Ane Roseborough-Eberhard from Weehawken both espouse progressive views. On the Republican side, Marcos Arroyo is unopposed.

11th District: Concerns about Mexican border

Five Republicans are competing for the nomination in the 11th District, another swing district, where Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill has no primary opponent. Tayfun Selen, a Morris County commissioner, has received the GOP backing in Morris and Essex counties and appears to be the most moderate of the five. Paul DeGroot, a former Passaic County deputy prosecutor, got the Republican nod in Passaic County. The three other candidates, all of whom are arguing for closing the Mexican border, completing the border wall and boosting the budget of the U.S. Border Patrol, are Toby Anderson of Bergen County, and Ruth McAndrew and Alexander Halter, both of Morris County.

There also contests for both parties’ nominations in the 1st and 2nd districts in South Jersey and 10th District, based in Newark and Jersey City; and for Republicans in the 6th District along the central Shore.

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