New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, centered in Morris County, is a model for the kind of wealthy areas where the key battles of the upcoming midterms will be fought, and on Wednesday, the Republican side brought in one of its big guns House Speaker Paul Ryan to try to keep the seat for the GOP, which has held it for decades.
Ryan’s argument is a version of one that the party is using all over the country: that Democratic candidate Mikie Sherrill is a “clone” of the “far-left” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
At a rally for Republican candidate Jay Webber in Hanover, N.J., 20 miles northwest of Newark, Ryan touted the accomplishments of the Republican-controlled Congress and denounced “liberals on the coast trying to buy the Congress,” a curious charge to bring in a state that is on the coast and is reliably Democratic in presidential elections.
“No pressure, but we — the rest of the country — we’re all counting on you, North Jersey, to deliver this man to the United States Congress in 20 days,” Ryan said. “I think you understand this, but the stakes could not be higher … The left, they’ve just come unhinged.”
Last month, President Trump publicly endorsed Webber, and they share the same desire for demeaning their political opponents with nicknames. Webber calls Sherrill “Montclair Mikie,” an insult derived from the famously progressive town she has lived in for the last eight years, which once prompted a complaint from former Gov. Chris Christie about “communists In Montclair.”
Ryan repeated the slur after checking with Webber, a legislator in New Jersey’s general assembly, to make sure he had it right.
“Montclair Mikie? Is that what we say? All right,” he said. “Nancy Pelosi and her clones running for Congress is going hard left. … They want to move us so far left that we wouldn’t even recognize ourselves. They don’t even call them progressives anymore. They call them democratic socialists.”
Ryan’s description fits the caricature President Trump has been trying to paint of the Democratic Party in general but seems off the point when applied to Sherrill, a former Navy pilot, and a federal prosecutor. She is socially liberal but represents the economic interests of her affluent district, which pays some of the highest property taxes in the nation. An actual democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders would not fly in the affluent 11th Congressional District.
Democrats think the retirement of the district’s congressman since 1995, Rodney Frelinghuysen, provides an opening to win over moderate and even some conservative voters frustrated with Trump’s brand of conservatism.
Ryan said he doesn’t think that a “blue wave” will wash across the country but that a “green-wave of money” already is.
“We see liberals on the coast trying to buy the Congress,” Ryan said. “Montclair Mikie is getting all this money, not from this district but from all over the country to try and put herself and Nancy Pelosi back in charge of Congress.”
Sherrill has raised large sums for a nonincumbent congressional candidate, $7 million. She entered the last 30 days of the race with $2.6 million on hand. For the last three quarters, she set and broke fundraising records for U.S. House candidates in the Garden State: $1.1 million in the first quarter of 2018, $1.9 million in the second quarter and $2.7 million in the third quarter.
The Cook Political Report lists the district as “Lean Democratic.” A Monmouth University poll has Sherrill ahead, 48 to 44 percent, within the margin of error.
Ryan also said, “What’s important about Jay Webber is he’s proven, he’s tested, he’s known, he’s from here, you know him, he knows you, he knows North Jersey, he shares your values, and he is the kind of talented person [who’s] going to hit the ground running when he gets to Congress.”
A few hours before the rally, Sherrill released a statement criticizing Ryan for his role in passing the Republican tax plan, which puts a $10,000 cap on the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) and would hit high-tax, liberal states like New Jersey particularly hard. Sherrill has described the SALT deductions as a major concern for their district.
“It is not surprising that Assemblyman Webber would bring the architect of the tax hike bill to our community. While Speaker Ryan punished New Jersey families, slashing the state and local tax deduction and threatening the future of Social Security and Medicare, Assemblyman Webber stood in lockstep with his Washington agenda,” Sherrill said.
“Their record as career politicians pursuing an ideological agenda may bond Ryan and Webber, but they break with the majority of New Jerseyans who want their full state and local tax deduction back.”