Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The 'Fighter' Won

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The 'Fighter' Won

Article excerpt

CALL IT Harry Truman wins, redux. On Tuesday, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. of Paterson handily defeated Rep. Steve Rothman of Englewood in a hard-fought Democratic primary fight in the new 9th District.

Pascrell's victory was sweet indeed. Conventional political wisdom had Rothman winning or Pascrell just squeaking by. Winning more than 60 percent of the vote, Pascrell roared.

The eight-term congressman was challenged by former friend and current colleague Rothman, also an eight-term veteran. After redistricting, Rothman's hometown of Fair Lawn landed in the new 5th District, along with Republican Rep. Scott Garrett of Wantage. Rather than take on Garrett in a district that slightly favored a Republican, Rothman moved back to Englewood, where he once was mayor, to challenge Pascrell in the Democrat-weighted 9th.

Rothman's logic was that the new 9th District contained more of his former constituents than the new 5th, and that gave him an advantage over Pascrell. That was the first of many Rothman mistakes. Had he taken on Garrett in November, Rothman might have won. Even if he had lost, he would have gained stature in a race pitting a social conservative, Garrett, against an unabashed liberal, Rothman. Instead, Rothman decided to play it safe. But he also played it poorly.

This was a nasty campaign. Rothman portrayed Pascrell as a Republican shill, distorting Pascrell's congressional record, an absurdity that did not stick. There will be much hand-wringing and under-the-bus-throwing in Bergen County over the misguided campaign waged by Rothman.

Voters can smell falsehoods when they know each candidate. They knew Pascrell. And they knew that Rothman's depiction of Pascrell stank.

And if they didn't know Pascrell before January, they met him these past six months. Pascrell is a consummate retail politician. The Internet is all well and good, but nothing compares to expending shoe leather door to door. …

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