For Progressives: Two Key Primaries

The House primaries are just four weeks away. For progressive Democrats there are two primaries where our actions now might particularly affect the key outcome. The Cook Redistricting Forecast for House elections in NJ is a split, with six seats for Democrats and six for Republicans. The outcome of the primaries and later elections in many cases is easily predicted, with incumbency, safe redistricted districts, and weakly contested races as key indicators. However, the Cook Report considers CD 5 as only "likely Republican: not competitive now but has the potential to be engaged." There progressive Democrat Jason Castle and Blue Dog Democrat Adam Gussen are in a primary arrayed against ultra conservative incumbent Republican Scott Garret. The other key race is CD 10 where "legacy candidate" Donald Payne, a favorite of the Essex County Democratic machine who hides from the public, is fiercely contested by the progressive Councilman Ron Rice and Senator Nia Gill.  These are two cases where getting involved now could make a difference.

In CD 9 where emotions run high and individuals debate the merits of Rep. Steve Rothman and Rep. Bill Pascrell, the key outcome is predictable: a progressive Democrat will take the seat in the election. Although there is no Democratic primary in CD 3, it is not too early to help Democratic Shelley Adler's campaign against incumbent Republican Jon Runyan. The Cook Report's projection for Mrs. Adler is even more favorable than that for CD5. It's forecast is "lean Republican: Competitive, but the Republican has an advantage." In other House campaigns so far neither the Cook Report nor the Rothenberg Report forecast any upsets, although in CD 7 Democratic Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-17) has launched a campaign against incumbent Republican Leonard Lance. It's also possible but not probable that the losing Democrat in CD 9 might gain a seat through entering a campaign in a neighboring district.

In CD 5 the need for volunteers and donations is particularly acute. Earlier in the year several potentially strong candidates decided not to run. Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett has $1.9 million in Cash on Hand, an almost ten-year incumbency, and the ability to disguise rabildly conservative proclivities. Previously unknown, but charismatic and progressive Jason Castle has been the most active of the two Democratic challengers via the internet and public appearances. However, he operates on a shoestring with $4,000 in Cash on Hand as of March 31. Teaneck Deputy Mayor Gussen has made no financial filing, he backed out at the last moment from a recent debate with Jason Castle and shows little engagement either publicly or through the internet. However, he has the important support of Bergen County Democratic Committee.

In CD 10 the question is not whether a Democrat will ultimately be elected, but whether the Democrat will be a progressive, such as Newark Councilman Ronald C. Rice, Jr. and Senator Nia Gill (D-Montclair) or legacy candidate Don Payne Jr. who during his time on the Newark Council and Essex Board of Freeholders has shown little interest in progressive issues. The candidates are attracting attention beyond their borders with new endorsements and alliances announced almost daily. Ron Rice Jr., was just endorsed by Democracy for America. Nia Gill was endorsed last week by two prominent women's groups, plus Sen. Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. Donald Payne, Jr. just received an endorsement from Senator Robert Menendez whose support runs against his local Hudson County Democratic Committee but in favor of the Essex County counterpart.

In CD 10 where the campaign was brought about by the somewhat sudden demise of Representative Donald Payne, Sr., the candidates started with little money to propel their efforts. Through March 31 in terms of Cash on Hand, Gill reported $34,000 and Rice reported $10,000.  Neither Payne, Jr. nor Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith filed a financial report with the FEC. However, it appears that Don Payne, Jr., may soon lead the pack financially. Don Payne, Sr, left $1.4 million in his campaign fund and its treasurer has been returning contributions to the donors and urging them to resubmit the check to Don Payne Jr.'s campaign. Against the Essex machine and a likely well financed, but "no appearances" Don Payne, a candidate like Ron Rice, who spent sunday in Hudson and Union Counties, particularly needs financial and volunteer support.

No contest should be taken for granted. Nonetheless, progressive Democrats between now and June 5 have an opportunity to affect key outcomes, especially in CD 5 and CD 10. As the lottery ads say, "You have to be in it to win it." That includes voting, volunteering, donating and helping anyway you can.

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