NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – Galvanizing a group of Northern New Jersey Republicans for midterms, the chair of the Morris County Republican Committee said the word from prominent party members is that their district and a neighbor to the south are key to keeping the House majority.
“Just a little bit of pressure,” chairman Ron DeFilippis joked to the crowd of 30 that gathered on Oct. 25 in Rockaway at the American Legion Post 344.
But the pressure on the 11th District, long considered reliably red, is one that has been building steadily.
“I think there’s a lot more enthusiasm for the Democratic Party than in years past … even at the local level,” said Doug Brookes, a 42-year-old Rockaway resident.
Over the past three years, Democrats in Morris County have boasted that they have picked up more than 20 municipal seats and lost none in the 11th District, which also includes parts of Essex, Passaic and Sussex counties.
“I hate to say it, but it kind of mimics the national arena,” Brookes said.
Beating Back the Tide
For Democrats, the 11th District came into play earlier this year when Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen announced his retirement after two decades holding the seat.
Though six-term New Jersey Assemblyman Jay Webber is vying to hold the office for Republicans, polling by the Cook Political Report shows that Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat and Navy pilot, has the edge.
At the meeting of Republicans in Morris County on Thursday, Deborah Smith portrayed the fight for the 11th district as a last stand against a Democratic shift in Morris County.
“If we can push them back in this election, maybe they won’t come back,” said Smith, who is also running for the local office of freeholder.
After some grumbling about immigration, Smith predicted that, “if Morris County goes Democrat, the state will be a sanctuary state.”
Another concern that has emerged for Rockaway Republicans is keeping everyone on the party line. When Sherrill was endorsed in August by Mike Puzio, a current Republican councilman and candidate for mayor in Rockaway, Puzio said, “the letter that comes after my name is less important to Mikie than the fact that I am a resident of this community.”
Puzio’s endorsement ruffled feathers at the American Legion, where one member even suggested the town apologize to Webber’s campaign.
A Stark Contrast Between Candidates
In Webber’s court, the 46-year-old assemblyman has had high-profile assists from Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway. Sherrill meanwhile won her primary handily and made headlines earlier this year for a fundraising blitz that recently drew $1.87 million from Mike Bloomberg toward an ad campaign.
Calling out the Republican candidate’s record on the environment as an assemblyman, Jeff Tittel, a Democrat in the 11th District who serves as director of the NJ Sierra Club, said, “Webber makes Frelinghuysen look like a tree hugger.”
Webber’s hard-right views on certain social issues and immigration — and his strong association with President Trump, who called him “outstanding” in a tweet — seems to have galvanized some on the left who had not engaged politically in previous years.