Home>Campaigns>More than 60 candidates are running for Congress in N.J. How seriously should we take them?

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More than 60 candidates are running for Congress in N.J. How seriously should we take them?

By Joey Fox, February 04 2022 4:49 pm

With 4th quarter fundraising reports arriving at the beginning of this week, it’s finally possible to take a look at how New Jersey’s 2022 congressional races are shaping up.

Among the more than 60 candidates running for Congress, of which 11 are incumbents, some impressed by raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others drastically underperformed and don’t have enough to run even a shoestring campaign. As primary season kicks into gear, and the county parties begin selecting their county line candidates, here’s a look at which candidates exceeded fundraising expectations and which ones will need a miracle.

4th quarter fundraising

 

The incumbents

11 of the state’s congressional candidates are incumbents running for re-election; even if they didn’t raise a dime in the last year and had no active campaign presence, they’d still have to be taken seriously.

Of course, none of the 11 are quite so asleep at the wheel. The strongest fundraisers, not surprisingly, are those in potentially competitive districts: Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) raised $1,125,737; Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), $923,020; Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), $767,547; and Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown), $767,547.

Gottheimer’s astonishing quarter means the Human Fundraising Machine is now sitting on a preposterous $12 million campaign warchest.

Also seeing strong fundraising quarters were Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) at $587,002, Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) at $427,875, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) at $362,105, and Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton) at $345,030. Van Drew and Pallone both face at least moderately serious general election opponents but are likely safe this cycle, while Smith has drawn a smattering of primary challengers.

Bringing up the rear are three North and Central Jersey Democrats in safely Democratic seats. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) raised $244,982, Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-Newark) raised $224,646, and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman raised just $106,848.

The strong contenders

In addition to the state’s 11 incumbents, three challengers – all of them Republicans running in potentially competitive districts – were formidable fundraisers in the 4th quarter.

The strongest was yacht manufacturer Robert Healey Jr., who raised an impressive $512,987 in just under two months to take on Kim in the 3rd district. But Kim’s own strong fundraising, along with the new congressional lines that made the 3rd district far more Democratic, means that Healey is still a significant underdog.

Also having a strong quarter was Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield), who is likely a small favorite to defeat Malinowski in the 7th district after nearly unseating him in 2020. Kean raised $503,226, less than what Malinowski raised but still potentially enough to defeat the congressman in a district that is sure to attract a large amount of outside spending.

And Marine veteran Nick De Gregorio, running against Gottheimer in the 5th district, raised $406,522 after only launching his campaign in mid-November. Like Healey, though, De Gregorio was drawn into a more Democratic district under the new map, and his fundraising totals still pale in comparison to Gottheimer’s.

The solid starts

While they didn’t reach the totals hit by most incumbents or the strongest challengers, another three candidates had quarters that put them in decent shape heading into primary season.

Two of those three, Paul DeGroot and Lawrence Casha, are both running in a packed 11th district Republican primary to take on Sherrill. DeGroot raised $112,115 and Casha raised $94,675 in their first quarters as candidates, totals that won’t be nearly enough to compete in the general election but may at least position them as lukewarm frontrunners in the primary as it currently stands.

Imani Oakley, a Democrat challenging Payne in the 10th district, also had a solid quarter, raising $121,158 – more than half of what Payne himself raised. 

The burn-throughs

Two additional Republican candidates running in blue districts also had passable quarters, especially given the Democratic lean of their districts, yet are beset by a problem that can often hinder campaigns before they get off the ground: they’re spending money as fast as they can raise it.

Billy Prempeh, seeking a rematch against Pascrell in the 9th district, raised $50,683, which should easily position him as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. But he spent $73,965 during the same period and only has $15,661 cash left on-hand, an unsustainable burn rate.

12th district candidate Darius Mayfield, meanwhile, raised $24,656 last quarter and $140,070 overall last year – a not-insignificant feat in a district that’s fundamentally unwinnable for Republicans – but only has $21,820 left over.

Vice President Kamala Harris, in her failed 2020 presidential run, provides an instructive example for the problems with burning through cash. Despite raising tens of millions of dollars, Harris never found a sustainable balance of fundraising and spending, and ultimately dropped out of the race citing a lack of cash

The disappointments

For six candidates, the 4th quarter represented a clear disappointment, where an opportunity to leverage past connections or flashy campaign launches into strong fundraising didn’t pan out.

In the 7th district, two candidates seeking to deny Kean the Republican nomination, businessman John Henry Isemann and 2021 gubernatorial candidate Phil Rizzo, raised $75,954 and $57,683, respectively. Those totals would be decent in a different district, but in a race where the Democratic and Republican frontrunners have hundreds of thousands of dollars on hand, it won’t be nearly enough.

Two Republican nominees from 2020 also had trouble raising money. Frank Pallotta, seeking a rematch with Gottheimer in the 5th district, raised $59,325, while 2020 Senate nominee Rik Mehta had an appalling $13,035 quarter for his 6th district campaign.

Morris County Commissioner and 11th district candidate Tayfun Selen had a good 3rd quarter and still has $136,063 on-hand – which makes the paltry $18,080 he raised in the 4th quarter all the more perplexing.

Finally, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd district, Timothy Alexander, raised just $36,080. That only barely puts him ahead of his less-heralded competitors for the Democratic nomination, and strands him far behind Van Drew.

The stragglers

There were also a number of candidates with mediocre 4th quarters whose campaigns never made any waves to begin with, so their poor performances were mostly in line with expectations.

In the 2nd district, Democrats Hector Tavarez and Carolyn Rush raised $30,910 and and $20,098, collectively, far from enough to compete with Van Drew. Two of Chris Smith’s Republican primary challengers in the 4th district, Mike Blasi and David Burg, similarly underperformed, with each raising around $29,000.

And two Republicans running for Democratic seats, Tom Toomey in the 6th district and Robert Kovic in the 11th district, had poor quarters that will hinder their campaigns. Toomey’s $22,731 and Kovic’s $13,215 raised mean they’re both underdogs for the Republican nominations in their districts, and even greater underdogs should they make it to a general election.

The candidates in name only

It’s unlikely any of the stragglers will be a member of Congress in 2023, but they at the very least have shown themselves to be capable of raising money and running functioning campaigns. The same cannot be said for a set of candidates around the state who completely failed to launch and raised next to no money – “candidates in name only,” in other words.

In the 1st district, Mario De Santis launched his Democratic primary campaign nearly five months ago, yet has only managed to raise a total of $3,052. Next door, 2nd district Democratic candidate Rev. Curtis Green has been running since at least last July, but has not filed any reports with the FEC, an indication he raised less than $5,000 in total.

Republican Tricia Flanagan, running in the 4th district after switching from the 3rd (despite living in neither), has a huge number of Twitter followers who amplify her ultra-conservative views – and who are apparently only willing to give $1,577 to her actual campaign. That’s as of September; Flanagan has not yet deigned to file her 4th quarter report.

In the 7th district, Fredon Mayor John Flora made some headlines when he launched his campaign in the 5th district, and again when he switched races after redistricting. But the FEC doesn’t appear to be aware of his existence, and it’s a mystery what exactly he’s doing to win the nomination. One of Flora’s opponents, Robert Trugman, raised just $2,300 and appears equally distant from victory.

Republican Ana Isabel Rivera started her campaign in the 10th district and switched to the 8th, but hasn’t reported raising any money in either, while her fellow 8th district Republican David John Winkler filed in March 2021 and has made an similarly nonexistent splash. 

And Republican Patrick Quinn’s switch from the 11th to the 9th district doesn’t seem to have given his campaign a boost; he raised only $1,100 total in the 4th quarter. 

As former 11th district candidate Hillery Brotschol showed, sometimes candidates in name only can come to terms with their own struggles and drop out. Brotschol was the first candidate to announce a run against Sherrill, but after a year of raising next to no money, she decided to end her campaign last week.

Some of these candidates in name only may follow Brotschol’s lead before the filing deadline hits. But others will inevitably stay in the race, insisting that they’re in a position to win right up to the end.

The too-early-to-tells

Finally, there is a cohort of candidates who entered their races too late to be covered by the 4th quarter fundraising reports. Some may end up being serious contenders and others may fade into obscurity, but with no fundraising reports and only a couple weeks of campaign activity, it’s too early to tell who will fall into each category.

Among that cohort is Rob Menendez, who is the clear frontrunner to be the next congressman in the 8th congressional district, the state’s only open district this year. Menendez formally entered the race six days after the 4th quarter ended.

Two Republican officeholders, Monmouth County Commissioner Sue Kiley running in the 6th district and Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin) running in the 7th, are also all but guaranteed to make waves in their respective races.

And Ian Smith, Mike Crispi, and Fred Schneiderman each have tough roads to the Republican nomination in their districts – Smith in the 3rd, Crispi in the 4th, and Schneiderman in the 5th – but each also have powerful backers and compelling reasons why they’ll be real contenders.

Other candidates for whom it’s still too early to judge the strength of their campaigns: Republican Claire Gustafson and independent Charles Park in the 1st district; Republicans Scott Hitchner and John Barker in the 2nd district; Democrat Reuven Hendler in the 3rd district; Republican Daniel Francisco in the 4th; Republican Gregg Mele in the 6th district; Republicans Kevin Dorlon and Sterling Irwin Schwab in the 7th district; Democrats Ricardo Rojas and David Ocampo Grajales in the 8th district; Democrat Akil Khalfani in the 10th district; and Republicans Larry Friscia and Toby Anderson in the 11th district.

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