WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Incumbent Democratic Congressmen Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman will have their first face to face debate Monday night. New Jersey's loss of a congressional district due to re-districting has set up this rare face-off between two incumbents with very similar left of center voting records.
Pascrell, 75, and Rothman, 59, are both vying to represent the newly created 9th district, which includes portions of southern and eastern Bergen County, as well as portions of Hudson and Passaic counties. The re-drawn 9th's boundaries includes several Democratic bastions that make it more than likely the winner of the June Democratic primary will win come November.
Parts of Rothman’s old 9th district were merged with portions of Pascrell’s old 8th district. Other parts of Rothman’s 9th were also incorporated in the 5th district, Represented by incumbent Republican Congressman Scott Garrett. Some Democratic partisans and national party officials were hoping Rothman would opt to take on the conservative 52-year-old Garrett.
Political Science Professor Peter Woolley, of Fairleigh Dickinson University, said while the make up of the newly drawn 9th favors Rothman, the decision by former President Bill Clinton to enter the intra-party fray on Pascrell's side last week was a potential game changer.
"The fact that Bill Clinton has endorsed Pascrell is important. A lot of endorsements don't really matter. But that one does matter," Woolley said. Woolley added Clinton's backing will help Pascrell raise money from outside the district and could help motivate turnout in a primary where less than one in five eligible voters is likely to cast a ballot.
Not to be outdone Rothman's campaign web site prominently displays a picture of him with President Barack Obama. While Obama has not made an endorsement in the race, a caption under the picture notes Rothman was the only member of the New Jersey House delegation to endorse then Senator Obama in his 2008 Presidential primary contest against then Senator Hillary Clinton. Pascrell backed Clinton.
FDU's Woolley said the Pascrell-Rothman battle is an evenly matched battle between two men who both entered Congress in 1996 and who are used to elections where they enjoyed lopsided Democratic registration, an advantage in campaign cash and faced only nominal GOP opposition.
"Here are guys who have been in the House for along time with 'give me re-elections' over and over, and now, all of the sudden, they have to stand out there in strip malls and trains stations and go walking up and down the sidewalks in new neighborhoods," Woolley said.
Monday’s debate at Bergen Community College in Paramus is sold-out, but the debate will be streamed live on The Record beginning at 7 p.m. and also be televised over Verizon's Fios Channel.
A second debate is scheduled for May 14 at Montclair State University and will be broadcast on New Jersey Public TV.
The primary is June 5.