Unlike other Democratic challengers in the state, House candidate Mikie Sherrill has, at times, taken great pains to avoid attacking President Donald Trump.
She did so at a debate on NJTV last week when asked about Trump’s endorsement of her opponent, Assemblyman Jay Webber, and she did so again on Thursday when responding to news that Trump would headline a fundraiser for Webber next week.
The politics of her reluctance to openly criticize the president are clear: he’s not unpopular in the historically-Republican 11th district.
A Monmouth University poll from last week put the president’s approvals in the district at a narrowly-positive 49%-48%, while a New York Times/Siena College poll released earlier Friday put his approvals slightly underwater, at 45%-50%.
Sherrill even acknowledged those figures when asked about her reluctance to criticize Trump on Friday.
“I think people know that I’m a Democrat, that I’m supporting the great policies that a lot of our candidates have,” Sherrill said. “The views of the president throughout the district are varied. Some people are very supportive of the president. Some people are not. What I’ve been focused on and what I think people in the 11th district are focused on are the clear needs that we have for new leadership in Congress.”
She pointed out that she had criticized the president on some points, namely on his cozying up to some of the country’s traditional adversaries while alienating longtime allies and Trump’s treatment of late Sen. John McCain, who spent roughly five-and-a-half years as a POW during the war in Vietnam.
But those issues are ones likely to appeal to moderate Republican voters, and Sherrill has – for the most part – avoided hitting Trump on some of the points more commonly maligned by rank-and-file Democratic and liberal voters, like, for example, his tweets.
“Me tweeting out constantly in the middle of the night about divisive things and ranting about Trump, I don’t think would move the agenda in the 11th district forward,” Sherrill said. “I don’t think it’s productive, and I think people here, as much as they’re concerned about the president or support the president, what they want me to do is come up with a plan to move this country forward.”
It’s possible that avoiding round criticism of the president like that offered by candidates Tom Malinowski and Andy Kim could risk depressing turnout among some of the district’s more liberal voters in Essex and Passaic Counties, especially given the year’s midterms are widely expected to be a referendum on Trump.
Though, Sherrill wasn’t overly concerned by that prospect.
“I think the people throughout the district have been very engaged and excited,” she said. “We have incredible energy from the grassroots groups.”