Pascrell wins tight N.J. primary

Rep. Bill Pascrell led by nearly 2-1.
Rep. Bill Pascrell led by nearly 2-1.
Posted: June 06, 2012

The ugliest and most expensive battle in the New Jersey primary on Tuesday knocked off U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, a 16-year Democratic incumbent who became a casualty of congressional redistricting.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, also a 16-year incumbent, beat Rothman in the race for the newly drawn Ninth District, which includes Passaic and Bergen Counties. With 90 percent of the precincts reporting, Pascrell led Rothman by nearly 2-1, a wider gap than most pundits expected.

Pascrell, 75, of Paterson, had chastised Rothman during the campaign for choosing to run against a fellow Democrat instead of running in the Republican-leaning Fifth District, where a panel of officials who redrew the congressional map placed Rothman’s hometown of Fair Lawn.

"As a lifelong Patersonian, my parents always taught me not to start fights, but to know how to end them," Pascrell said in his victory speech. "That’s what we did tonight." Rothman, 59, a lawyer, decided to run against Pascrell because 57 percent of his old district was redrawn into the new Ninth District. He even moved into the district, to Englewood, where he had once been mayor, to give him an added edge in the race.

In his concession speech, Rothman called Pascrell a true fighter. He said he wasn’t sure of his future plans.

"I don’t believe I’ll be running for public office again," Rothman said in his concession speech.

Tuesday’s primary was also the starting gun for the state’s U.S. Senate race. State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R., Monmouth) handily defeated three GOP challengers. He will face U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J), who is serving his first full term in the Senate, in the fall. Menendez ran uncontested in Tuesday’s primary.

In the left-leaning 10th District, Donald Payne Jr., Newark’s council president, beat five other Democratic opponents replace his father, Donald Sr., who was the state’s only African American congressman when he died of cancer in March. Payne will fulfill the remainder of his father’s term in Congress and be the Democratic nominee in the fall in a district that includes parts of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties.

The race in the Ninth District drew national attention when it became a mild proxy war between President Obama and Bill Clinton. Pascrell endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candidacy for president in 2008. Bill Clinton, who lent his influence to at least six other Democratic candidates who faced primaries this year, came out to help Pascrell as a way to thank him for his support for Hillary Clinton, now secretary of state.

Both Rothman and Pascrell raised more than $1 million each for a primary battle that grew nasty and personal, as Rothman portrayed himself as the "real" progressive in the race, citing Pascrell’s votes to ban late-term abortions. The two congressmen had voting records that were nearly identical, and Rothman zeroed in on the few differences, even going so far as to couple Pascrell in a televised ad with Republicans like Gov. Christie and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Come January 2013, New Jersey will have 12, not 13, members of Congress, which could mean a loss of clout on the Hill.

Like many northeastern states, New Jersey’s population did not grow as fast as southern and western states, according to the 2010 census, so it lost one of its congressional districts. Pennsylvania Democrats also lost a representative due to redistricting when U.S Rep. Mark Critz defeated fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire in the state’s April primary.

In the southern part of the state, incumbents held their ground.

U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews will run for his 12th term in Congress after defeating Francis Tenaglio, a retired social studies teacher from Haddon Township, in the Democratic primary. Andrews represents the state’s First District, which includes most of Camden County and parts of Gloucester and Burlington Counties.

In the Second District, which spans six counties and includes Atlantic City, Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) beat Mike Assad, an Absecon school board member. LoBiondo is serving his ninth term in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, who has represented the Fourth District for 32 years, got the GOP nod again after defeating challenger Terrence McGowan in the Fourth District, which includes parts of Monmouth, Ocean, and Mercer Counties.

Contact Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237 or jfarrell@phillynews.com or on Twitter at @joellefarrell.

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