It’s been more than 40 years since a New Jersey congressional candidate won a rematch with an incumbent, a point that won’t necessarily affect five House races this year, except for believers in political superstition.
Five candidates, all Republicans, are seeking rematches of races with Democratic congressmen they’ve previously challenged: Tom Kean, Jr. in the 7th district, Frank Pallotta in the 5th, Claire Gustafson in the 1st, Billy Prempeh in the 9th, and David Pinckney in the 10th.
Kean, the former minority leader of the New Jersey State Senate, came within one percentage point of ousting Tom Malinowski in 2020. He’s the front-runner in a field of six GOP candidates seeking to take on Malinowski this fall in a district that became more Republican after redistricting.
The last time a candidate won a rematch was in 1980, when two Republicans who had run in 1978 – Christopher Smith and Marge Roukema — ousted Democratic incumbents.
Smith was the 25-year-old executive director of New Jersey Right to Life in 1978 when he won 37% of the vote against Frank Thompson, Jr., the chairman of the House Administration Committee who was first elected to Congress in 1954. Two years later, following Thompson’s indictment in the Abscam scandal, Smith beat him, 55%-41%. The 69-year-old Smith is now the longest-serving congressman in New Jersey history.
Democrat Andrew Maguire, who worked at the U.S. Department of State when Lyndon Johnson was president, ousted a 22-year GOP congressman, Bill Widnall, in the 1974 Watergate landslide. Roukema, a former Ridgewood school board member, held Maguire to 52.5% in 1978 and defeated him by four points, 51%-47%, in 1980.
Roukema served for 22 years in the seat Pallotta now wants to take from Josh Gottheimer on his second try.
Gottheimer almost faced a rematch in 2020. John McCann, a former Cresskill councilman who won 42% against Gottheimer in 2018, wanted to run again. But McCann lost the GOP primary by 20 points to Pallotta.
Gustafson, a former Collingswood school board member, is the favorite in a GOP primary against Damon Galdo. She wants to take on Donald Norcross again after losing 62%-38% two years ago.
Pinckney won 12% of the vote against Donald Payne, Jr. in 2016 and his making his second try this year. He has the GOP organization lines in Essex, Hudson and Union counties in his primary against newcomer Garth Stewart.
With no primary opponent, U.S. Air Force veteran Prempeh will get a rematch against 13-term incumbent Bill Pascrell, Jr. Pascrell defeated him by 34 points in 2020.
Old New Jersey rematches
Another Republican congressional candidate in 1980, Assemblywoman Marie Muhler, came within 2,085 vote (50%-49%) of unseating eight-term incumbent James Howard. Muhler’s 1982 rematch in a redrawn Monmouth-based district and in Ronald Reagan’s mid-term election, was less successful: she lost by a landslide 62%-36% margin.
Howard had two rematches during a career than began when he rode LBJ’s coattails to an upset victory in 1964. He beat 26-year-old Nixon White House aide Bill Dowd in 1970 by 12 percentage points and t hen again in 1972 by six points. Dowd passed on a third run at Howard in the Watergate year and went on to serve as an assemblyman and Monmouth GOP chairman.
Three Watergate Babies – Jim Florio, Bill Hughes and Helen Meyner – were winners on their second try. (A fourth member of the Class of 1974 from New Jersey, Maguire, had run a strong race for Bergen County Freeholder in 1973.)
Florio was a 33-year-old two-term assemblyman from Camden County when he took on John Hunt, an authentic South Jersey conservative, in 1972. Hunt, a former Gloucester sheriff and state senator, defeated Florio by 10,158 votes, 52%-47%, in 1972. Two years later, Florio flipped the 1st district by 19 percentage points, ending Hunt’s congressional career after four terms.
Another conservative, Charles W. Sandman, Jr. was well-known statewide as a former Senate President, four-term congressman, and three-time gubernatorial candidate. In 1973, Sandman beat incumbent Gov. William Cahill in the Republican primary, but then lost the general election to Brendan Byrne by 738,378 votes, 67%-32%. Byrne carried 20 counties – everywhere but Sandman’s home county of Cape May – and Democrats flipped 13 State Senate seats and 26 seats in the State Assembly.
Hughes, a former First Assistant Cape May County Prosector, held Sandman to a 51.7%-48.3% win his 1970 House re-election campaign, a 4,150-vote margin. He skipped 1972 but returned in 1974 to oust Sandman by 30,699 votes, 57%-41%.
The 13th district had an interesting few cycles that started in 1970 when Republicans cleared the field for GOP State Chairman Nelson Gross to run for U.S. Senate. To get Joseph Maraziti, a state senator from Morris County, to drop out of the Senate race, Cahill and GOP legislative leaders offered Maraziti the chairmanship of the congressional redistricting committee. (In those days, the maps were drawn by the legislature).
Maraziti used the post to draw a district for himself.
The new map combined two Hudson County Democratic incumbents, Dominick Daniels and Cornelius Gallagher, into a single Hudson congressional district, instead forging a new western New Jersey seat.
The new 13th started in Maraziti’s hometown, Boonton, went through western Morris, included Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren counties, and a small part of then-Republican western Mercer.
The Democratic nomination, with 42% of the vote, went to Joseph O’Doherty, a salesman from Chester and a political newcomer. But O’Doherty was forced off the ballot after the primary when a judge determined that had not been a U.S. citizens for the constitutionally-required seven years. O’Doherty was born in Ireland and became a citizen in 1967.
Democrats replaced O’Doherty with a seemingly stronger candidate: former First Lady Helen Stevenson Meyner. She was the wife of former two-term Gov. Robert Meyner and a cousin of two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.
Nixon won 70% of the vote in the new 13th district against George McGovern and Maraziti defeated Meyner by a 56%-43% margin to win election to Congress.
Maraziti was assigned a seat on the House Judiciary Committee, where he became better known to his constituents as a staunch defender of Nixon during nationally-televised impeachment hearings. He voted against all three articles of impeachment.
Maraziti also became bogged down in a scandal.
He put his 35-year-old girlfriend, Linda Collinson, on his congressional payroll in a no-show job while she continued to work at Maraziti’s Morris County law firm.
Collinson was outed after she applied for a loan with the House Credit Union. A staffer in Maraziti’s Washington office told the credit union that she had never heard of Collinson.
Reporters later discovered that Maraziti owned the house Collinson lived in.
Maraziti was also damaged by reports that a Warren County newspaper fired their managing editor, Donald Thatcher, after learning that he was also on Maraziti’s congressional payroll. Later, news broke that Nicholas DiRienzo, the general manager of two New Jersey radio stations, was also on the congressman’s staff.
Meyner ran again – she defeated O’Doherty in the Democratic primary by a 47%-26% margin in a four-way race – and rode the Watergate wave to a 14-point, 21,877-vote win over Maraziti.
In 1976, three years after losing his State Senate seat to Malinowski’s aunt, Anne Martindell, Republican Bill Schluter took on Meyner. He came within 5,241 votes of unseating Meyner, 50%-48%.
Schluter wanted a rematch with Meyner in 1978, but he lost the GOP primary by 134 votes to Jim Courter, a former First Assistant Warren County Prosecutor. Courter defeated Meyner by a 52%-48% margin. He ran for governor in 1989, winning just 37% statewide against Democrat Florio, and did not seek re-election in 1990.
In a race for an open House seat in 1970 – Cahill had left to become governor – former Senate President Edwin Forsythe defeated Assemblyman Charles Yates by a 54%-44% margin. Yates challenged Forsythe again in the 1974 Watergate year, but lost by 10,837 votes, 52%-45%. Yates outed an incumbent in a Democratic primary for State Senate in 1977 and served one term before retiring. (His brother, Edgewater Park Mayor Craig Yates, tried to run against Chris Smith in 1982 but lost the Democratic primary to former Senate President Joseph Merlino by 16 points.
Linda “Spender” Stender, a veteran assemblywoman from Union County, nearly upset three-term GOP incumbent Mike Ferguson in 2006. She lost by just 2,945 votes, 49%-48%. Ferguson retired in 2008 and Stender instead faced State Sen. Leonard Lance. Lance won by 23,643 votes, 50%-42%.
In the same 7th district seat, Fanwood Mayor Maryanne Connelly challenged three-term Republican Bob Franks in 1998 and lost by 11,975 votes, 43%-44%. Franks ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000 and Connelly’s GOP opponent was Mike Ferguson. She lost by 14,955 votes, 52%-46%.
Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory assistant director Rush Holt won 23.5% in the 1996 Democratic primary – the winner was Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio – but unseated freshman Michael Pappas in 1998. Pappas wanted a rematch with Holt in 2000 but lost the Republican primary by a 2-1 margin.
Monmouth County Freeholder Anna Little frightened Frank Pallone a little bit in 2010 after a Monmouth University poll showed a seven-point race. Pallone won 55%-44%, and then defeated Little in a 2012 rematch by a 63%-36% margin.
Republican Brian Kennedy, who lost his Monmouth County State Senate seat to Pallone in 1983, ran for Congress against Howard in 1984 and lost by a 53%-46% margin. In a 1986 rematch, Howard beat Kennedy by 17 points, 49%-41%. Pallone, who went to Congress in 1988 following Howard’s death, walloped Kennedy in 2000 by 38 percentage points, 68%-30%.
In a rematch, conservative broadcaster Charles Wiley came within 2,836 votes of upsetting eight-term Democrat Edward Patten, a former Perth Amboy mayor and Wilentz machine lieutenant involved in the Koreagate scandal, in 1978. Patten had defeated Wiley by a 59%-39% margin 1976.
Patten retired in 1980 and Wiley lost the GOP primary to Bill O’Sullivan by a 64%-46% margin. Senate Majority Leader Bernard Dwyer, a former Edison mayor, beat O’Sullivan by 10 points in the general election.
Fred Bohen, a former White House staffer under LBJ, won just 38% against Peter Frelinghuysen in 1972. He ran again in the Watergate year after Frelinghuysen retired and lost by ten points against Millicent Fenwick in 1974.
The Second Try Club
Some congressmen have made it to Washington after previously losing House races, but not in rematches with previous opponents:
* Donald Payne, Sr. lost Democratic primaries against House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino in 1980 and 1986 and won the seat in 1988 when Rodino retired.
* Dick Zimmer, the former New Jersey Common Cause president, briefly sought the Republican nomination for Congress in the 13th district in 1978. After serving both houses of the New Jersey legislature, he won Courter’s open seat in 1990.
* Frank LoBiondo was defeated in his 1992 challenge to Hughes, but then took the open seat after Hughes retired in 1994.
* Rodney Frelinghuysen went to Congress in 1994 as a replacement candidate for five-term incumbent Dean Gallo; Gallo had dropped his re-election bid after the GOP primary and died of prostate cancer two days before the general election. Frelinghuysen had lost Republican primaries for Congress in 1982 and 1990 but was able to win his first House race by wining a special convention of the Morris County Republican Committee.
* Ferguson unsuccessfully challenged Pallone in 1998. Despite losing by seventeen points, Ferguson was preparing for a rematch with Pallone when Franks decided to give up his 7th district Seat to run for U.S. Senate. Ferguson switched districts and won the GOP nomination by a 41%-28% margin against Kean, Assemblyman Joel Weingarten (23%) and future West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey (8%).
* Scott Garrett, a Sussex County assemblyman, challenged Roukema in the 1998 Republican primary, losing by 1,717 votes, 43%-47%. In a 2000 rematch, Roukema beat Garrett by 1,002 votes, 52%-48%. When Roukema retired in 2002 after House Republicans passed her over of the chairmanship of the Financial Services Committee, Garrett won the primary with 45% of the vote after Bergen County Republicans split their votes between Assemblyman David Russo (26%) and State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (25%).
* Albio Sires received 27% of the vote as the Republican nominee for Congress in 1986, but then won the Hudson-based seat 20 years later as a Democrat.
* Leonard Lance lost a GOP primary for an open 12th district House seat in 1996. He was elected to Congress fourteen years later, after his hometown of Clinton Township was redrawn into the 7th.
* John Adler received 39% of the vote against three-term Republican Jim Saxton in 1990 and then ousted a four-term Republican state senator the following year. He went to Congress in 2008 following Saxton’s retirement.
Rematches bids that didn’t work
There’s a line between unsuccessful rematches and perennial candidates:
* Agha Khan won 18% against Sires in 2016 and 10% in his 2018 rematch. He’s also lost races for Hudson County Executive (2007), Surrogate (2009), and State Senate (2021).
* Peter Jacob lost to Lance in 2016 by eleven points and was beaten by Malinowski in the 2020 Democratic primary by a 67%-19% margin.
* Bob Patterson won 37% against Norcross in 2016, but then lost a GOP primary against Jeff Van Drew in 2020.
* Hector Castillo lost a 2012 GOP primary in the 9th district and then won 28% against Pascrell in 2016. He sought the Republican nomination for Congress in NJ-5 in 2020 but received just 5.6% of the vote. Castillo also lost races for Paterson Mayor in 2002, governor as an independent in 2005, and State Senate in 2013.
* Upendra Chivukula, a seven-term assemblyman, lost a 2012 House bid against Lance and a 2014 Democratic primary for Holt’s open seat against Bonnie Watson Coleman.
* Dale Glading lost back-to-back races against Rob Andrews in the 1st district in 2008 (26%) and 2010 (34%), and then lost a 2016 GOP primary for state representative in Florida.
* Theresa de Leon ran against Bob Menendez in 1998 (17%) and again in 2000 (19%). She lost a race for Hudson County Clerk in 2003.
* Bill Auer was the Democratic candidate against Marge Roukema twice. He won 22% in 1994 and 25% in 1996.
* Fred Theemling won 31% against Frank Guarini in 1988 and 29% in his 1990 rematch. Guarini did not seek re-election in 1992 after the new map created a Hispanic majority district, and Theemling took 31% against the new congressman, Bob Menendez. But life worked out for Theemling, who served as Hudson County Prosecutor from 1997 to 2002 and then as a Superior Court Judge from 2002 to 2014.
* Mount Holly Mayor James B. Smith ran for Congress three times: he took 38% against Saxton in 1984 for the open seat created by the death of Forsythe; 31% against Saxton in 1987, and 31% against Saxton in 1994. He also lost a State Senate race in 1987 and an Assembly bid in 1997.
* David Crabiel, a four-term Middlesex County Freeholder and Milltown mayor, lost a Democratic primary to Thompson in 1974 by a 65%-35% margin, and was defeated by Courter in 1988 by a 63%-37% margin. His brother was J. Edward Crabiel, sometimes known as “Concrete Eddie,” a former Senate minority leader, Secretary of State, and candidate for governor.
* Frederick Busch lost race to Jim Florio in 1984 (28%) and 1986 (23%).
* Bob Davis, who helped organize Ronald Reagan’s New Jersey campaign against Gerald Ford in 1976, won 34% against Joseph Minish in 1980. He sought a rematch in 1982 but finished third in the GOP primary with 27% of the vote.