Montvale mayor Michael Ghassali has raised $861,900 in his bid to unseat two-term Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) in New Jersey’s 5th district.
Ghassali raised $560,654 in the 4th quarter of 2019 and has $728,588 cash-on-hand, according to his campaign manager, Rich Castaldo.
Most of the funds come from the candidate, who has loaned $600,000 to his campaign so far.
That gives Ghassali a significant fundraising advantage over his top rival for the Republican nomination, investment banker Frank Pallotta.
Pallotta reported raising $510,899 in 2019 and has $382,483 cash-on-hand. Pallotta has loaned $290,000 to his campaign, nearly three-quarters of it in the last three months.
Gottheimer, known as the Human Fundraising Machine, has not yet reported his year-end campaign warchest. He had banked $6.4 million at the end of September.
Five other Republicans are seeking the nomination to run against Gottheimer: former Cresskill councilman John McCann, who ran in 2018; former Bergen County Republican official Paul Duggan; teacher James Baldini; college student Jon Dalrymple; and perennial candidate Hector Castillo. Dana DiRisio, who spent ten years as an aide to Rep. Scott Garrett, dropped out of the race earlier this month.
Ghassali, a Syrian immigrant whose family fled Aleppo when he was 15, was re-elected to a second term as mayor last year.
Prior to is announcement, Ghassali told the New Jersey Globe that he was well suited to take on Gottheimer, the two-term congressman known as the human fundraising machine.
He has a background in logistics and finance and works as the vice president of corporate partnerships for Feed the Children, where he’s raised over $400 million in gift in kind for a program to mitigate child hunger in the United States.
Ghassali has made some news beyond his small northern Bergen borough on the New Jersey/New York border.
After President Donald Trump issued his February 2017 travel ban that barred Syrian refugees from coming to the United States, Ghassali said he would not allow Montvale to become a sanctuary city.
He won praise from conservative radio and television personality Bill Spadea, who called him “a man of conviction and courage and sees the bigger picture of his role as a leader and law abiding American.”
“He is truly the epitome of the American dream,” Spadea said in 2017.
Gottheimer faces a Democratic primary challenge from Glen Rock councilwoman Arati Kreibich.
The two-term congressman raised $7,002,979 and spent $2,952,240 during his 2018 campaign, according to post-election reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission. He defeated McCann by 41,291 votes in a district almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans that Donald Trump carried by one percentage point.
A former Clinton White House speechwriter and Microsoft executive, Gottheimer ousted seven-term Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) in 2016 by a 51%-47% margin. He outspent Garrett, $4,782,462 to $2,411,570.
This story was updated on February 3 to include Ghassali’s personal contribution.