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Rep. Donald Norcross. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Four N.J. incumbents face congressional primaries so far

Redistricting could change landscape for 2022 primary

By David Wildstein, November 30 2021 1:07 pm

Four New Jersey House members are facing primary elections so far in a state that hasn’t defeated an incumbent House member in a primary since 1958, except for redistricting years when two incumbents were forced to run against each other.

That number could go higher, depending on what the congressional districts look like after the redistricting commission approves a new map in January.

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) faces Mario DeSantis in the 1st district.   DeSantis is a teacher and musician whose Democratic primary challenge to Senate President Steve Sweeney fizzled after a few days when he couldn’t get the 100 signatures he needed to get on the ballot.

In the 2nd district, Scott Hitchner, Jr., an Air Force veteran and Second Amendment advocate is planning to take on Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) in the Republican primary.  Hitchner heads a grassroots firearms activist group in Salem County.

Last year, seven months after he switched parties, Van Drew beat former Trump administration official Robert Patterson in the GOP primary with 82% of the vote.

Two Republicans have announced challenges to 21-term Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton) in the 4th district primary: Englishtown Councilman Daniel Francisco and realtor Mike Blasi.

Francisco was appointed to the Englishtown Borough Council om 2019 and has won the seat twice: a 2020 special election to keep his seat, and a three-term earlier this month.  He defeated Democrat Sean Atterbury by a 2-1 margin.   A former Project Veritas employee, he’s also a Second Amendment advocate and activist.

Blasi is a U.S. Army veteran and retired law enforcement officer.

Hitchner, Francisco and Nick Magner, a Republican who wants to challenge Norcross, have identical campaign websites

Rep. Donald Payne (D-Newark) has two announced primary opponents: Akali Khalfani, a professor at Essex County College; and Imani Oakley, who has had multiple jobs over the last few years.

Payne holds one of the most Democratic seats in the nation and has easily dispatched multiple primary challenges since his first election in 2012.  He won 91% in 2014, 92% in 2018 and 83% 88% in 2020.

Norcross has also beaten down primary challengers: He won 70% against Alex Law, a supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, in 2016; and 84% in 2018,

Smith has also faced primaries before over the last four decades, but without consequence.  He won 95% last year.

There’s much speculation that Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) will face a Democratic primary, although no candidate has come forward.

Last year, he defeated Glen Rock Councilwoman Arati Kreibich in the Democratic primary by 33 points.

Gottheimer has more than $11 million in his campaign warchest.

Just 10 of the 125 candidates who have challenged incumbent New Jersey House members of the last 40 years have received more than 33% of the vote.

The last incumbent congressman to lose a primary in New Jersey was Steven Rothman (D-Fair Lawn), who was beaten by Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) after the two incumbents wound up in the same district in 2012.

After 1972 redistricting eliminated one of Hudson County’s House districts, Dominick Daniels (D-Jersey City) defeated Cornelius Gallagher (D-Bayonne) in the Democratic primary.

Gallagher was the last New Jerseyan to oust a sitting congressman in a non-redistricting year.  He defeated Rep. Alfred Sieminski (D-Jersey City) in the 1958 primary after Hudson County Democrats declined to support him for re-election.

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