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.
The latest midterm polling shows a strong Republican advantage nationally, but House races are ultimately intense local affairs. For six-term Democratic incumbent Rush Holt, this year's reelection bid is a tough one in New Jersey's 12th House district against Republican Scott Sipprelle.
Last month, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele added Holt's district to a list of Democratic seats that are worthy of additional national party attention. Holt, a former Princeton plasma physicist, has been around long enough that the boundaries of central Jersey's 12th House district were draw to his advantage. It includes portions of Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon, Somerset, and Monmouth counties.
Now, the 61 year-old Holt faces 47 year-old Scott Sipprelle, a Republican venture capitalist who is largely self-funding his campaign. Sipprelle's resume includes work at Morgan Stanley, Westland Ventures LLC and Cooper Arch Capital.
Sipprelle, a telegenic fiscal conservative, says abortion "should be legal, safe and rare." He favors a so-called 20 percent flat tax to replace the income tax for individuals and corporations. Sipprelle opposes President Obama's health care reforms and does not support stimulus spending aimed reviving the stalled economy. He has pledged to serve only three terms if elected.
Holt is a progressive with a perfect League of Conservation voter rating. In 2008, he consistently pushed for a deadline to withdraw from Iraq. He has been a leader in Congress on tightening gun control and advocates the registration of all handguns. Holt also doesn't mind making waves once something gets on his radar. He continues to keep the heat on the FBI for their botched handling of the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Holt has tried to tie Sipprelle to Wall Street by calling for the venture capitalist to release his income tax returns. Sipprelle has filed the required ethics disclosure documents with the House but has refused to make his returns available.
Holt highlights that his average donation is just $200. This week, some of the progressive calvary arrives in to the district with the visit of Texas radio talk show star Jim Hightower. Hightower will help Holt celebrate his 62nd birthday. Tickets start at $62 dollars but run as high as $2,400 for a "party patron" ticket.
President Obama did well in this district in 2008, winning the district by 60,000 votes. For Holt, the challenge is make sure those Democratic voters turn out again to keep him in Washington.