Thursday, September 04, 2008
One of the most interesting Congressional races in the country is shaping up in the Fifth Congressional District in New Jersey. Newcomer Dennis Shulman is vigorously challenging 3 term conservative Republican Scott Garrett in what might be a safe Republican district... if this were not an extraordinary year.
Since 1980, when it was first created in something like its present form, the Fifth Congressional district in New Jersey has had a Republican Congressman/Congresswoman. Marge Roukema, a moderate Republican, was elected in 1980; shortly after, the Congressional district lines were re-drawn, making her the Congresswoman from the new Fifth Congressional District. In 2002, the Fifth was changed somewhat to make it even more conservative and she retired, to be followed by Scott Garrett, a quite conservative Republican.
The Fifth District is L-shaped, cutting through the Northern towns in Bergen County in the Northeast, then going West and then South through more rural regions including Warren County and parts of parts of Passaic and Sussex counties.
In the June 3 Primary, Dennis Shulman was selected to run against Garrett, defeating two rivals.
Shulman is a distinguished candidate, with a PhD in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice from Harvard, a well-regarded career as a psychologist and educator, and some important books to his credit. He is a determined achiever, with an excellent reputation, and a platform that is right in line with Democratic Party objectives, in what looks like it could be the best year for Democratic candidates in a long time.
Shulman happens to be blind (since childhood), and in addition to his other professional accomplishments has been ordained as a progressive Rabbi. He is making little of that in his campaign, but if elected, it would be another first in this remarkable year of remarkable and unique candidates.
Since part of the 5th, perhaps half or more, is a part of Bergen County -- which is affluent and close to NY City, with many academic, professional, and business leaders with a strong interest in political ideas similar to Shulman's, he has a strong position, especially if he can establish himself as a unique and strong political voice. He is fortunate to be running in a place where that can be heard and appreciated.
Still, he has an uphill battle. Two years ago, the Democratic candidate, Paul Stuart Aronsohn won only about 44% of the vote against Garrett.
According to "BlogThe Fifth" the results in 2006 were:
Scott Garrett - 112,142 votes - $1,050,722 spent - $9.37 per vote
Paul Aronsohn - 89,503 votes - $535,448 spent - $5.98 per vote
Looking at the (unofficial) primary results, running more or less unopposed, Scott Garrett polled more than twice as many votes as Shulman in the primary, and more votes (by about 4:3) than all the Democrats together. Garrett had slightly more votes (by about 9:7) than Shulman in Bergen (with the total Democratic vote more than Garrett's by about 10:9). In the rural and more conservative part of the District, Garrett outpolled Shulman by about 5:1.
Clearly, Shulman's biggest challenge is to become well known throughout the district. With sufficient resources (and that means perhaps $2 million in campaign funds), it is clear how he can establish himself solidly in Bergen. To make a run in the rest of the district (with about half the votes), however, is harder. It will require a major effort, with personal appearances, television ads in the popular stations and programs there, and the development of an efficient and "attractive" machine to organize the Democratic vote, and engage and convert the nominally more conservative voters.
It would probably be of great value both to Obama and Shulman to appear together. Obama generates massive crowds and attention; Shulman can help galvanize the enthusiasm of a sector of the electorate and solidify support in NJ and other big states for Obama.
The bigger the stage on which Shulman plays, the better are his chances for election. Because of the nature of the 5th, to win, he would do well to mount a campaign more like a senatorial campaign than a normal congressional race.