Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Primary Is 'A Race to the Left'

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Primary Is 'A Race to the Left'

Article excerpt

The fierce primary battle between Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell Jr. has taken a sharp turn to the left as they scramble to attract the undecided liberal-leaning Democratic voters likely to choose the winner in this redrawn 9th Congressional District.

The trend accelerated during their feisty first debate Monday. The buzzwords most often heard were "progressive" from Rothman and "fighter" from Pascrell, as both men tried to outdo each other in promoting their liberal credentials.

Expect to see more of this skirmishing toward the party's left flank as two heavily funded campaigns move into the closing weeks before the June 5 primary. The calculus is simple: In a Democratic primary, that's where the voters are.

"It's a race to the left," said Nick Acocella, publisher of PolitifaxNJ, a political newsletter. "Every real liberal I know is relishing this."

Likely Democratic primary voters tend to be more progressive, Acocella said. And because the redrawn 9th District is predominantly Democratic, the eventual winner won't "have to worry too much about tacking back toward the middle in the general election," Acocella said.

The fight in North Jersey to be more progressive is the mirror image of what has been happening in Republican primaries this spring where candidates have tried to outdo one another in establishing their conservative credentials.

The campaign attacks continued Tuesday. Rothman began airing a new cable television commercial that charges Pascrell with "caving in" to Republicans on a vote to repeal the estate tax, lumping him in with Mitt Romney, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich.

Pascrell's campaign countered that Rothman's ads are the latest example where he is using negative claims that have not stood up to scrutiny by independent fact-checkers and fly in the face of everything Pascrell has fought for in his career.

Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, said that given the similar ratings Pascrell and Rothman have on their voting records from various interest groups, the race is more likely to be determined less on the differences on specific votes than they will be by the candidate's personal style.

Harrison said she has studied the two congressmen's records and does not see that much difference.

"It's apples to apples," she said. "We're talking about comparing Granny Smiths to Macintosh."

"Each candidate is attempting to demonstrate their progressive bona fides, which they both have," she said. "Both are trying to out- progressive one another."

In some respects, Pascrell and Rothman appear remarkably similar: Both are serving their eighth term in Congress, they had been close friends and their voting records were nearly identical.

But that was before a state redistricting commission in December redrew the map, shrinking four North Jersey districts into three. …

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