Home>Campaigns>As 4th quarter ends, it’s crunch time for House challengers 

Morris County Commissioner Tayfun Selen. (Photo: Selen for Congress).

As 4th quarter ends, it’s crunch time for House challengers 

Most candidates running against N.J. incumbents have yet to show fundraising prowess

By Joey Fox, December 14 2021 1:34 pm

This fundraising quarter – the 4th quarter, which runs from the beginning of October through the end of December – will make or break candidates running in the state’s competitive districts for the U.S. House of Representatives.

That’s because by the time the next fundraising quarter ends on April 1, most county parties will have already awarded their lines to one candidate or another, which frequently ends a race before it begins. The parties, as well as other endorsers, will be looking at this quarter’s reports as the most recent indication of a candidate’s fundraising abilities.

What’s more, the filing deadline is April 4, meaning that candidates will have to decide whether to remain in the race before 2022’s 1st quarter fundraising report deadline of April 15.

In other words, the shape of New Jersey’s 2022 congressional primaries will be determined over the coming weeks – and for candidates who have yet to clearly stand out, the time is approaching for them to put up or shut up.

In the 5th district, represented by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) since 2017, four Republicans have so far announced bids, but they’ll have to show incredible fundraising prowess to overcome the Human Fundraising Machine. Gottheimer raised around a million dollars every quarter so far this year, and he shows no signs of slowing down, giving him an ever-expanding $11 million warchest.

The top Republican in fundraising so far is 2020 nominee Frank Pallotta, who raised $58,000 last quarter and just $151,000 overall; Pallotta put $1 million of his own money towards his 2020 campaign, but there’s no guarantee he’ll do so again to win this year’s primary. Sussex County school board member Nick D’Agostino, meanwhile, has only raised $12,000 despite being in the race for nearly a year.

But the elephant in the room is a candidate who has yet to file any reports at all: marine veteran Nick De Gregorio, who launched his campaign in November. If De Gregorio’s fundraising can quickly overtake that of Pallotta, D’Agostino, and Fredon Mayor John Flora, he could establish himself as a frontrunner going into county party endorsement season.

To Gottheimer’s south, the 11th district’s Republican primary is the state’s most crowded, with eight Republicans vying to take on Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) and no clear leader among them. Sherrill raised $628,000 last quarter and has $4.6 million cash-on-hand, daunting sums for her many challengers.

Her best-funded opponent, Morris County Commissioner Tayfun Selen, raised $141,000 in Q3, while former RNC staffer Tom Toomey, former Ridgefield councilman Robert Kovic, and screenwriter Hillery Brotschol each raised less than $60,000.

Four more candidates – 2020 gubernatorial candidate Phil Rizzo, Morris County Republican State Committeeman Larry Casha, former assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Paul DeGroot, and realtor Patrick Quinn – have yet to report any money raised, in some cases because they entered the race this quarter.

In such a crowded field, Selen is so far the only candidate who stands out in fundraising, and even his totals can’t come close to matching Sherrill’s. The reports that will come by January 31 will show whether any 11th district candidate can truly break away from the scrum and show that they have what it takes to go up against the sophomore congresswoman.

The 7th district, where Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) is serving out his second term, is the only primary in a competitive district that is somewhat settled. Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield), who narrowly lost to Malinowski in 2020, raised $631,000 last quarter to Malinowski’s $863,000, and is the clear frontrunner to take on the incumbent once again.

It’s up to Kean’s three primary opponents, then, to prove that their campaigns still show signs of life even as national Republicans align behind Kean. 2020 Republican Senate nominee Rik Mehta raised $96,000 last quarter, perennial Robert Trugman raised $18,000, and 27-year-old humanitarian John Isemann entered the race after the end of Q3; each will need to put up major fundraising numbers for this quarter if they want any chance of dethroning Kean.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown)’s 3rd district is hosting what is so far a more unresolved primary. The race’s top two Republican candidates, Rev. Shawn Hyland and yacht manufacturer Bob Healey, both entered the race during this fundraising quarter, so their Q4 reports will be their first chance to demonstrate their money-raising abilities.

Healey in particular made a pledge that will be hard to break: the former punk rocker pledged to raise half a million dollars before the end of the quarter. Even if he meets that lofty goal, however, Kim may still outraise him; the congressman raised a colossal $804,000 last quarter.

Three more Republicans in the race, businessman John Barker, perennial candidate Tricia Flanagan, and Mount Holly school board member Will Monk, have so far been afterthoughts. Flanagan, a perpetual flouter of federal election law, raised just $1,500 in Q3, and Barker and monk have yet to file any reports with the Federal Elections Commission.

Finally, the 2nd district, home to Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis), is somewhat unlikely to be a top Democratic target next year. It voted narrowly for Donald Trump last year and overwhelmingly for Jack Ciattarelli this year, and New Jersey Democrats will probably focus on defending their own incumbents rather than campaign heavily against Van Drew, who raised $362,000 in the 3rd quarter.

For Democratic attorney Tim Alexander, the Q4 report will be a chance to pull away from the pack of four Democrats running to take on Van Drew, and to show national Democrats that he can in fact wage a competitive campaign after raising only $70,000 last quarter.

The other three Democrats in the race – retired Egg Harbor police captain Hector Tavarez, Rev. Curtis Green, and Carolyn Rush – would have to put up major numbers to dislodge Alexander as the race’s presumptive frontrunner.

One further complicating factor is congressional redistricting. While many states around the country have already redrawn their congressional lines, New Jersey’s Redistricting Commission hasn’t even released a draft map, meaning that New Jersey’s dozens of congressional candidates are running for seats that don’t technically exist yet.

That makes fundraising harder for challengers, who can’t assure their donors that they’ll have a district to run in next year. The 5th and 11th districts, for example, could grow more Democratic once the new lines are finalized; if that happens, the Republican primaries in those districts might become lost causes.

But that huge question mark doesn’t diminish the importance of the upcoming finance reports. During the equivalent quarter in 2017, Kim raised $345,000, Malinowski raised $528,000, and Sherrill raised $486,000; in Q4 2015, Gottheimer raised $375,000. Each of them went on to flip a Republican-held seat the next year.

If Republican candidates running for their seats, or Democratic candidates in the 2nd district, want to replicate their success, the reports they’ll file by January 31 will be all-important. The next Congress won’t be sworn in for more than a year – but donors are determining who will serve in it right now.

This story was updated at 10:01 a.m. on December 15 to correct the filing deadline for Q4 reports; it is January 31, not January 15.

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