Republican House challengers in the fifth congressional district appear to be headed into another bitter primary fight.
Former investment banker Frank Pallotta’s campaign recently launched a messaging poll testing dings against former Cresskill Councilman John McCann, who is aiming for a rematch with Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) after losing to the congressman last cycle.
A partial recording of one voter’s response to the poll shows that Pallotta’s campaign is testing many of attacks perennial candidate Steve Lonegan launched against McCann during 2018’s primary.
“These issues are irrelevant to the district and to the American people,” McCann told the New Jersey Globe. “I suppose if I had nothing to run on as a positive record, a lot of people would be faced with that challenge: ‘If no one’s ever heard of me and I haven’t done anything substantial in my life, what do I do?’”
The poll asked voters whether their views on McCann changed after they were told he had lost his law license after being sued for malpractice, attacked him over a political patronage position he held under former Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino and “the shady endorsement of the corrupt tax and spend Bergen County political machine, who have repeatedly raised taxes and been involved in multiple corruption scandals.”
“Just the fact that you’re doing push poll questions is trying to move voters, the very 200 or 300 that you’re doing for the sample,” McCann said. “So clearly, he’s already gone negative.”
A push poll is a telemarketing technique meant to sway voters. Such attacks are typically mounted close to an election, Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray said, and Pallotta’s survey appears to be a standard message testing poll.
Mccann said he won that trial, but his insurer paid more than $92,000 to avoid an appeal. His ability to practice law was unaffected.
Bergen County Republicans awarded McCann the organizational line without holding a county convention this year. The organization’s policy committee — the body functions as a screening committee — voted to back McCann, and the BCRO opted to back the committee’s decision after cancelling its convention over concerns about the virus.
The Bergen GOP also awarded McCann the line in 2018. County Committees do not have the ability to raise taxes, and the BCRO has been largely scandal-free over the last decade.
All the attacks are ones Lonegan raised against McCann during their blistering primary, and of the attacks the perennial candidate mounted most frequently, only a charge that McCann is a “fake Republican” was missing from the poll.
When reached by the New Jersey Globe, Pallotta said he was not directly involved with the poll, saying his campaign manager Kelly Ann Hart handled that realm of campaign activity.
“I don’t know anything about that,” he said.
Hart confirmed the poll was being pushed by the Pallotta campaign and said the push poll was more focused collecting data more than on denting McCann’s image.
“John McCann has gone delusional again. It must have been caused by Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi’s endorsement of Frank,” Hart said. “To suggest that the science of polling is the same as mass telemarking is dishonest, and McCann knows this. He’s done polls himself and commissioned pollsters. Perhaps you should reach out to Mr. Kelley Rogers of the Strategic Campaign Group. They ran John’s 2018 campaign when he could afford polling.”
The poll, which Hart said asked 50 questions, was conducted by Tom McLaughlin & Associates, a reputable Republican pollster from whom McCann commissioned a poll in 2018.
The attacks weren’t enough to secure Lonegan a win, and it’s possible the Republican infighting helped Gottheimer win his second term in Congress.
Despite that, it appears Pallotta and McCann are both prepared to take the campaign back into the mud pit this year.
“This guy’s a fraud, honestly. The guy who’s running against me is a fraud, and the fact that he’s going negative when no one’s ever heard of him is proof of it,” McCann said. “He’s got nothing to run on. He’s got no platform.”
A previous version of this story referred to the Pallotta campaign’s survey as a “push poll.”