A big part of Stephanie Schmid’s stump speech to voters is that she once worked for the Republican congressman she’s hoping to take on, Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton).
Schmid was 16 when she spent fifteen days after she was placed in Smith’s office by the Washington Workshops Foundation in 1997.
“I ended up in Chris Smith’s office because I’m a Jersey girl and he’s a Jersey guy, and that’s where the similarity ends,” she says in a campaign ad. “I knew then that we did not agree on almost anything.”
Smith’s campaign is disputing Schmid’s account of her intern experience, releasing handwritten notes the Democratic congressional candidate wrote to him and his staff.
In one note, Schmid called Smith “a dedicated and tireless advocate for Human Rights and Christianity around the world.”
“Never has there been a more worthy public servant who makes one believe in the process and forget about the bureaucracy,” Schmid told Smith. “I would love the opportunity to work in your office again in the not too distant future.”
That statement is dissimilar to a tweet the candidate wrote last fall, saying that “even though I was only 16 at the time, I knew then that his values were extreme.”
In later correspondence with Smith’s office, she asked for a letter of recommendation for her college application. Five months after her internship, she sent a note to Smith’s staff: “I miss the office…I send all my love. Feel free to write. Love, Stephanie Schmid”.
David Applefield, one of three Democrats seeking the chance to take on Smith in today’s primary election, criticized Schmid for “pretending she rejected his views as a teenager while she was sending him fawning notes that praised him.”
“Stephanie Schmid’s hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Applefield said. “The political bosses who crafted Stephanie Schmid’s endorsements, donations, and favorable place on the ballot may have been tricked—but voters won’t be fooled by her craven ambition and reckless disregard for truth.”
In a candidate forum sponsored by the New Jersey Globe on Sunday, Schmid’s two primary rivals, Applefield and Christine Conforti, declined to say they would endorse her if she wins the primary.Smith’s longtime aide, Mary McDermott Noonan, says that Schmid has embellished her short time as a Capitol Hill intern, claiming to have “analyzed human rights issues pending before the House Foreign Affairs Committee”.
“The 15-day high school internship, in which Ms. Schmid participated, is on the shorter, less comprehensive end of the internship spectrum during which interns are tasked mainly with administrative duties and offered the opportunity to attend hearings and take summary notes for staff,” Noonan said in an Op-Ed published by the Globe.
The criticism of Schmid is not about what she did in high school, but rather how she has portrayed her internship with Smith as a candidate against him.
Schmid views the attack on her thank you notes as cheap.
“That’s the political attack he wants to make in 2020 — that a teenager was polite to him in 1997, complimenting him in ways that may have been more courteous than accurate,” she said in her own Op-Ed. “I can only assume he’s attacking my teenage self because he’s afraid of the adult who faces him now.”
The circumstances of Schmid’s pit stop in Smith’s office will likely emerged as a general election issue the former U.S. State Department official becomes the Democratic nominee.
The debate is not whether a 40-year-old woman should be held to beliefs she may have held when she was in high school, but rather her own statements as a candidate for Congress during the current election cycle.
“So everyone can agree it’s perfectly acceptable for the views you held when you were 16 to evolve. The strong words of endorsement of a 16-year-old are not what’s at issue here,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Center for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “The point is, Stephanie Schmid is saying Congressman Smith has not changed.”
According to Rasmussen, the issue is that Schmid “says she knew his personal views at the time, and they did not prevent her from being able to work with him in a positive and successful way.”
“I would argue that’s exactly what the voters of his district concluded about him long ago, too,” Rasmussen said. “If he has not changed, then it undermines the argument that he should be replaced.”