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Matt Mowers. (Photo: Mowers for Congress.)

Five races to watch where candidates have N.J. ties

By David Wildstein, November 02 2020 12:07 pm

Here are five races to watch from across the country where candidates have close ties to New Jersey:

1. MATT MOWERS

A Bergen County native, Mowers has been in politics since he was a teenager.  He worked for Gov. Chris Christie before moving to New Hampshire in 2013 to become executive director of the state GOP.  He ran Christie’s Granite State campaign in the 2016 presidential primary and later joined Donald Trump’s campaign.

After a stint as the White House’s political guy at the U.S. Department of State, Mowers has returned to New Hampshire to take on freshman Rep. Chris Pappas in the 1st district.

Mowers has raised nearly $1. 4 million, with $272,490 of that coming from New Jersey. His donors include lots of Christie alumni, including $11,2000 from the former governor and first lady.

A St. Anselm College Poll released last week shows Pappas with a 5-point lead over Mowers, 50%-44%.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), left, with retired astronaut Mark Kelly outside the Woodland Park American Legion Hall on September 7, 2018. New Jersey Globe Photo.

2. MARK KELLY

Most polls show West Orange native Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and combat veteran, with a clear lead in his race for a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona against the interim Republican incumbent, Martha McSally.

McSally is holding the Senate seat left vacant when John McCain died in 2018.

Kelly became a national political figure in his advocacy of gun safety issues after his wife,  then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Arizona) was the target of an assassination attempt where six people died.  Giffords suffered a severe brain injury.

Both of New Jersey’s senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, have been raising money for Kelly.

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana). (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

3. GREG GIANFORTE

The former Monmouth County resident and GOP congressman is in a close race to become the next Governor of Montana. A Montana State University-Billings poll released last week showed Gianforte and his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, tied at 45% each.

Gianforte has strong New Jersey roots.  He spent sixteen years in the state, attending Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and lived in Beach Haven, Red Bank and Little Silver while working at Bell Labs in Holmdel. Gianforte’s parents were both from New Jersey: his father grew up in Newark and his mother in Pittstown.

Cooney and the Montana Democrats have made an issue of Gianforte’s New Jersey residency.

“Sorry for sending you one of New Jersey’s worst exports,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a tweet to Cooney.

Last week, former Gov. Chris Christie fell victim to a prank when he recorded a Cameo video telling Gianforte that he should come back to New Jersey.

“Jersey never quite leaves you, does it?” Christie said.

Alaska U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross. (Photo: Dr. Al Gross for U.S. Senate.)

4. AL GROSS

Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman who caught the imagination of voters through a series of clever TV ads in a relatively inexpensive media market, is challenging Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan in the race for Alaska’s U.S. Senate seat.

Gross in an independent who has the support of Alaska Democrats.

His father, Avrum Gross, grew up in South Orange and West Orange before moving to Alaska in the 1960s.  He became attorney general of Alaska in 1975.

Al Gross’ grandfather, Joel, was a lawyer in Newark and chaired the Essex County United Jewish Appeal.   In 1948, when former Vice President Henry Wallace mounted an independent campaign for the presidency, Joel Gross served as vice chairman of the newly-formed Independent Progressive Party.  He previously served as an executive board member of the New Jersey Independent Citizens League.

The seat leans Republican.

Rick Merkt, right, and Chris Christie inspect Morris County voting machines during their 1995 campaign for the New Jersey State Assembly in the 25th district.

5. RICK MERKT

A former six-term Republican assemblyman from Morris County, Merkt is running for the New Hampshire State House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election.

Merkt, who was Chris Christie’s running mate in a 1995 GOP State Assembly primary, faces four Democratic incumbents in his bid for a the legislature in a second state.

He served as mayor of Mendham Township and as the Mendham borough administrator, and challenged Christie for the 2009 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

The 71-year-old Merkt lives in Westmoreland (pop. 1,874), in Cheshire County (pop. 77,117), which is about the size of Parsippany and Montville combined.  Cheshire County has 23 members of the state House of Representatives.

The district Merkt lives in has a population of 13,258 – about the size of Hanover Township — and sends four representatives to the Legislature.  In 2018, Democrats captured all four seats; Republicans lost by 934 votes.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried Merkt’s district by 998 votes over Donald Trump, a 57.5%-42.5% district.

In New Jersey, Merkt’s legislative district was about 17 times larger than the one he is seeking in New Hampshire.

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