Former President Bill Clinton’s appearance in Paramus on Saturday to support the re-election of three-term Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) is a reminder of New Jersey’s tradition of running former White House staffers for Congress.
Gottheimer was joined Clinton’s staff in 1998, at age 23, as a White House speechwriter; he remained there until the end of the Clinton presidency on January 20, 2001.
Eighteen years later, Gottheimer made his first bid for public office, ousting seven-term Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) in New Jersey’s 5th district. He ended a 36-year stint of GOP House members in a district that Donald trump carried that year.
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), who is seeking his third term in Congress in the 7th district, served in the Clinton White House at the same time as Gottheimer. He was a senior director of the National Security Council from 1998 to 2001, after working as a speechwriter for two U.S. Secretaries of State, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. He later served as an Assistant U.S. Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.
Malinowski unseated five-term Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) in 2018.
His opponent this year is Republican Thomas Kean, Jr., the former minority leader of the New Jersey State Senate. Kean worked as a legislative assistant to Rep. Bob Franks (R-Warren) in the 1990s.
In the 3rd district, two-term Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown), who ousted Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) in 2018, he worked in the Obama White House as a national security aide, heading the Iraq desk. He has previously worked at the U.S. Department of State and as a civilian advisor to Generals David Petraeus and John Allen.
Taking the staff route is not uncommon.
Bob Torricelli worked for Vice President Walter Mondale and managed Jimmy Carter’s Illinois campaign against Ted Kennedy in the 1980 Democratic primary; and Andy Maguire (Gottheimer’s Democratic predecessor) worked for Lyndon Johnson at the Department of State and at the United Nations. He challenged three-term Rep. Harold Hollenbeck (R-East Rutherford) In 1982 and won; fourteen years later, he won a U.S. Senate seat.
Andrew Maguire (D-Ridgewood), who served in the Johnson administration as a staffer at the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Delegation to the United Nations, ousted 11-term Rep. William Widnall (R-Saddle River) in 1974. He was re-elected twice to the seat Gottheimer now holds, but lost re-election to Marge Roukema (R-Ridgewood) in a 1980 rematch.
White House aides don’t always win.
In 1970, when Rep. Jim Howard (D-Spring Lake Heights) held the very Republican Monmouth-based House seat, the GOP candidate was Bill Dowd, a 26-year-old former White House staffer for the still-popular Richard Nixon. Howard won 55%-43%. Dowd ran again in 1972, and with Nixon winning 67% in his district, he held Howard to a 53% win. Dowd was getting ready to run again in 1974, but amidst the Watergate scandal, he didn’t bother. Howard won with 69%.
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; his campaign manager, Tim Carden, was unable mount a strong campaign in a district that was less Republican than other districts Democrats won that year.
Joseph Kyrillos (R-Middletown) was working in Ronald Reagan’s administration as an aide to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel when Republicans recruited him to run for an open State Assembly seat in 1987. He moved up to the Senate in 1991. While he lost bids for Congress in 1992 against Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Long Branch) and for the U.S. Senate against Bob Menendez in 2012, he spent 30 years as a popular Monmouth County lawmaker.