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Rep. Matthew J. Rinaldo

When congressmen shop for new districts

Ferguson moved from Red Bank to Warren to run; Rinaldo, Courter ran in districts where they did not live

By David Wildstein, January 19 2020 3:59 pm

Congressional candidates changing their minds and moving to a different district is not unusual in New Jersey

Republican Mike Ferguson, then 27, lost a 1998 race against Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Long Branch) in the 6th district by 17 points after raising more than $1 million.

He was planning on running again in 2000 – Pallone was mulling a bid for Frank Lautenberg’s open U.S. Senate seat – when Rep. Bob Franks (R-New Providence) announced that he would seek the GOP Senate nomination.

Franks’ open 7th district seat became more attractive to Ferguson, who moved from Red Bank to Warren Township to run for Congress.

Three other candidates were in the race to take Franks’ seat: Tom Kean, Jr., the 31-year-old son of the former governor and a former top aide to Franks; Assemblyman Joel Weingarten (R-Millburn); and Patrick Morrisey, the counsel to the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee who late became the attorney general of West Virginia.

Armed with a huge bankroll – and Republican mega-consultant Larry Weitzner — Ferguson defeated Kean by 3,390 votes, 41%-28%.  Weingarten, who had the organization lines in Union and Essex, finished third with 23%.  Morrisey won 9% of the vote

Ferguson held the seat in the general election, defeating Fanwood mayor Maryanne Connelly by 14,955 votes, 52%-46%. He served eight years in Congress before retiring in 2008.

It happened twice in 1982, when congressional redistricting resulted in a messy new map that removed the hometowns of two Republican incumbents form their House districts.

Rep. Matthew Rinaldo (R-Union) was seeking re-election to a sixth term in Congress when redistricting put his hometown of Union Township into the 13th district that was represented by two-term Rep. Jim Courter (R-Allamuchy).  The part of Warren County where Courter lived became part of the 5th district, represented by freshman Rep. Marge Roukema (R-Ridgewood).

Rinaldo decided to remain in the 7th, the legendary fishhook district that went from Elizabeth – despite being a Republican, Rinaldo regularly carried Elizabeth — to Princeton, and then north into Marlboro.

The fishhook district was drawn by the Legislature – their last map before a constitutional amendment created an independent redistricting commission – after self-funder Adam Levin, a 33-year-old former state Consumer Affairs director, made enormous contributions to 1981 Democratic legislative candidates to secure a winnable district.    Rinaldo had beaten Levin by a 2-1 margin in 1974.

Rinaldo amassed an impressive warchest of his own – about $700,000 and hired Republican political consultant Roger Stone as his strategist. Levin, the son of a mega-millionaire real estate developer, spent about $1.6 million.

The incumbent carried Union (59%), Somerset (53%), Middlesex (52%) and Monmouth (53%), while Levin won Mercer with 54%.  That gave Rinaldo a 20,978-vote win, 56%-43%.

Courter also ran in his old district rather than the one he lived in.  He beat Assemblyman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) by 16,339 votes, 63%-37%, in the Republican primary.  He won the general election with 67% against Jeff Connor, the son of John T. Connor, who served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

That allowed Roukema to avoid a primary against Courter and win re-election to her second term.

Rinaldo refused to move into the new 7th district, remaining in Union Township.  He also kept his congressional district office in Union – in Courter’s district.

Two years later, a panel of federal court judges invalidated the legislature’s 1982 map and drew their own.  Union was returned to Rinaldo.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) owns a home about one mile outside the 11th district, where she won a House seat in 2018.    Montclair is split between the 10th and 11th districts and she is a constituent of Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-Newark).

As a candidate, Sherrill moved her family into rental home in the 11th where she lived until nearly a year ago when her lease expired.  Until she can sell her home, she’ll remain a resident of the 10th.

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