Home>Congress>In New Jersey, Nixon, Reagan landslides didn’t help GOP candidates

President Ronald Reagan, left, and former Vice President Walter Mondale debate in Kansas City in 1984. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

In New Jersey, Nixon, Reagan landslides didn’t help GOP candidates

Reagan carried 13 of 15 N.J. congressional districts, but only one incumbent lost

By David Wildstein, February 27 2020 12:02 am

Ronald Reagan carried New Jersey by 672,307 over Walter Mondale in 1984, 60%-39%, but his landslide win of the state’s sixteen electoral votes didn’t have much of an effect on the races for U.S. Senate and Congress.

Democrat Bill Bradley was re-elected to a second term with 64% of the vote against Republican Mary Mochary, the former mayor of Montclair.  Bradley received 53,914 more votes in New Jersey than Reagan did.

Republicans flipped one House seat: the 11th district, where Reagan beat Mondale, 69%-31%.

Assembly Minority Leader Dean Gallo (R-Parsippany) ousted 11-term Rep. Joseph Minish (D-West Orange), 56%-44%.  The big asterisk there was that court-ordered redistricting forced a map that made the 11th substantially more Republican.  In other words, Gallo would have beaten Minish anyway based under that map.

Reagan carried 13 of New Jersey’s 14 House districts – only the Newark-based 10th went for Mondale (75%-25%).  Seven Democratic congressmen won with relative ease despite the magnitude of Reagan’s victory.

Here’s how they played out:

* 1st District: Reagan won the Camden-based district 55%-45%, but Rep. Jim Florio (D-Runnemede) was re-elected to a sixth term with 72% of the vote over former Clementon councilman Frederick Busch.

* 2nd District: Reagan had a 24-point win in the South Jersey district, 62%-38%, but Rep. Bill Hughes (D-Ocean City) won a sixth term with 63% against Raymond Massie, a college professor.

* 3rd District: The Monmouth-based district went 2-1 for Reagan, 67%-33%, but the perpetually-challenged Rep. James Howard survived his 11th House race in a fairly sold Republican seat.  Howard, who had held his seat in 1980 by just 2,085 votes, defeated former State Sen. Brian Kennedy (R-Sea Girt) by a 53%-46% margin.

* 6th District: Reagan won the Democratic Middlesex County congressional district by 18 points, 59%-41%, but Rep. Bernard Dwyer (D-Edison) won his third term by 13-points, 56%-43%, over automobile dealer Dennis Adams.

* 8th District: In the Passaic-based district, Reagan defeated Mondale 58%-42%.  Still, indomitable eight-term Rep. Bob Roe (D-Wayne) won a huge 63% victory over Republican Marguerite Page, a public school teacher from Passaic who was the first African-American woman to win a major party nomination for Congress in New Jersey.

*9th District: Reagan took the Bergen-Hudson district by 18 points, 59%-41%, but that didn’t stop freshman Rep. Bob Torricelli (D-Englewood) from winning a landslide 63%-37% victory over Neil Romano, a former executive director of the New Jersey Republican State Committee.  Romano had scammed Bergen Republicans into supporting him with a promise of huge family money; he wound up raising just $90,499 and Torricelli outspent him 5-1.

*14th District: The Hudson County district voted for Reagan by a 53%-47% margin, but three-term Rep. Frank Guarini (D-Jersey City) was re-elected to a fourth term with 66% of the vote over perennial candidate Edward Magee.  Republicans, boosted a little by Reagan but mostly through local political issues, unseated two incumbent Hudson County freeholders to capture the Hoboken and North Bergen seats.

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton), 31-years-old and seeking his third term in Congress in 1984, outpolled Reagan twice in the then-Democratic leaning 4th district.

In 1980, Reagan carried the 4th, 47%-44% over Jimmy Carter and Smith ousted 13-term Rep. Frank Thompson (D-Trenton), under indictment in the Abscam scandal, 57%-41%.  In 1984, Reagan beat Mondale 59%-41%, and Smith was re-elected by as 61%-39% margin over Mercer County freeholder James Hedden.

The Nixon-McGovern year

Richard Nixon won New Jersey by 743,291 votes in 1972 in a stunning 62%-37% victory over George McGovern.  He won all 21 counties, taking Essex with just over 50% and winning 60% in Hudson.

Nixon carried every 14 of 15 congressional districts.  McGovern won the 10th by a 63%-37% margin.

U.S. Senator Clifford Case won his fourth term by a 62.5%-34.5% margin over former Rep. Paul Krebs (D-Livingston).  His plurality was 780,281.  This was the last time Republicans won a U.S. Senate race in New Jersey; only Hawaii has gone longer.

None of the eight Democratic incumbents seeking re-election lost their seat, although some faced tough races.

In the 3rd district, Howard defeated former Nixon White House aide Bill Dowd by a 53%-47% margin.  Nixon won the district 67%-33%.  Dowd later served as an assemblyman and was the longtime Monmouth County Republican chairman.

Peter Garibaldi (R-Monroe), bricklayer and three-term Republican assemblyman from Middlesex County, challenged Thompson in the 4th, which Nixon carried by a 58%-42% margin.  Thompson was re-elected by the same margin, running 16 points ahead of McGovern.

Roe won his second full term by 63%-37% margin over former Totowa councilman Walter Johnson.  Nixon beat McGovern in the 8th district by the same percentage.

In the 9th district, Rep. Henry Helstoski (D-East Rutherford) defeated former State Sen. Alfred Schiaffo (R-Closter) by 12 points, 56%-44%, while Nixon carried his district by a 63%-37% margin.

Minish coasted to a 58%-40% victory against former State Sen. Milton Waldor (R-South Orange) in the 11th, despite Nixon’s 60%-40% win.

Nixon won the Hudson-based 14th by 20 points, 60%-40%, but Rep. Dominick Daniels (D-Jersey City) still defeated Republican Richard Bozzone, 61%-34%.

Daniels had first won a congressional seat in 1958 when Democrats flipped a seat they had lost in the Dwight Eisenhower landslide two years earlier.

There was almost an upset in the 15th district, which was almost entirely Middlesex County before New Jersey lost a House seat after the 1980 census.

Edward Patten, a legendary lieutenant of the venerable Wilentz political machine,  had served as Perth Amboy mayor, Middlesex County Democratic chairman, and New Jersey Secretary of State before a new congressional seat was created in 1962.

Nixon won the 15th by a 61%-39% margin and almost had some coattails.

Fuller Brooks, a former FBI agent who had lost a race for the Edison Township Council, came within 8,755 votes of being a Republican congressman from Middlesex County.  Patten beat him by a 52%-48% margin.

Trivia question: who was the last Republican congressman from Middlesex?

Answer: Chris Smith, who grew up in Old Bridge.  That’s where he lived when he ousted Frank Thompson in 1980.  He moved to Hamilton in 1982, after redistricting gave Old Bridge to Bernie Dwyer.

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