Republican State Senate candidate Seth Grossman launched an attack at Gov. Phil Murphy and the press Tuesday over coverage of a mass shooting in Fairfield that left three dead and at least 11 others injured, charging coverage of the incident was politically motivated.
Grossman, a sometimes controversial pro-Trump candidate running off-the-line for the Republican nod for State Senate in the second district, claimed the media and governor covered up the race of the Fairfield shooter.
“When a black person is shot or killed by a police officer or anyone who is white, the national media report it as front page, headline news for days, weeks, or months,” he said in an email to supporters Wednesday. “Democrats and their media do this to promote a fake narrative. This is how Democrats keep their political control of America’s cities in spite of the poverty, violence, and misery they create.”
He charged the press did not post photos of the arrested suspect or others present at the large house party where the shooting took place.
Several news outlets posted mug shots of Kevin Dawkins, 36, whom authorities charged with several gun law violations Monday. Neither Kevin Dawkins nor Darrell Dawkins, who also faces a charge over his alleged unlawful possession of a handgun, have been charged over the shooting.
It’s not clear whether the two are related, and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Monday said he anticipated more arrests in the coming days.
Murphy on Sunday met the shooting with renewed calls for new gun control laws.
“Let there be no mistake: This despicable and cowardly act of gun violence only steels our commitment to ensuring New Jersey leads the nation in passing and enforcing strong and commonsense gun safety laws. No community should ever experience what occurred last night in Fairfield,” he said before urging residents with information about the shooting to step forward.
During his 2018 bid for Congress, Grossman lost support from national Republicans and some of the second congressional district’s county chairs after a series of statements and social media posts decrying diversity and calling Kwanza a fake holiday.
Around the same time, the National Republican Congressional Committee pulled its support after news emerged that he shared an article that said Black people represented “a threat to all who cross their paths.”
He said in 2018 he shared the posts without reading them because they were shared by former Florida Rep. Allen West.
Grossman won the Republican nomination in an upset off-the-line victory that year, and he’s looking to do so again against former Assemblyman Vince Polistina, the organization-backed candidate to replace State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Ventnor City), who is not running for another term.
Two polls have shown Grossman, a former Atlantic County freeholder who is well known in the Atlantic County-based district, with a slight edge over Polistina with a huge number of voters still undecided.
It’s not clear how his attack over a mass shooting will affect his campaign, but it’s possible the move will backfire.
“There was a time in the not-so-distant past when officials would be looking to lower the temperature, not raise it,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. “It’s reckless. He’s going out of his way to step into the middle of a controversy that he knows nothing about.”
Fairfield isn’t even in the second district. It falls in the neighboring first legislative district, which is represented in the Senate by Michael Testa (R-Vineland).
But it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that the attack will play well among Republican primary voters lurid of gun control and amenable to Grossman’s race-rooted message.
“That’s clearly what he’s hoping for. That’s the only thing he can be hoping for, that it’s going to appeal to his potential voters,” Rasmussen said. “He clearly believes that, so in that sense, it’s opportunist.”
The email to supporters included a fundraising call, an offering of lawn signs and business cards calling for a boycott of Coca Cola the candidate adopted after the firm opposed restrictive voting laws enacted by Georgia Republicans earlier this year.
Grossman has centered his campaign around the sort of cultural issues popularized under former President Donald Trump.
His email attacked critical race theory as “propaganda directing hate and blame against whites and Jews” and charged Hollywood and other media institutions, along with Democrats, schools and colleges, promoted criminality to Black Americans while villainizing police.
Polistina’s messaging is more focused toward economic ills and support of law enforcement, a platform far more typical of a New Jersey Republican.
Polling suggests Republican primary voters could be more welcoming of Grossman’s inflammatory rhetoric than they are of the fiscally conservative one favored by the organization-backed candidate.
A Public Policy Polling survey of likely Republican voters commissioned by the Democratic Governors Association and reviewed by the New Jersey Globe found overwhelming support for Trump and broad belief in his false statements.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents, 73%, believed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol carried out by supporters of the former president was a false flag operation organized by groups that opposed him. Another 71% wrongly believed Trump won the election, and 69% said the pandemic was exaggerated to undermine Trump.
That poll sampled statewide voters, and there’s no guarantee Atlantic County Republicans share those views.