Dixie in North Jersey

As the modern Republican Party has grown more and more southern in its ideology, values, style, and temperament, I’ve often wondered why northern Democrats don’t make more of an issue of it in their campaigns. I really began thinking about this way back when Tom DeLay was the most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives. It seemed like a lot of ostensibly moderate Republican House members in my Mid-Atlantic area were getting a pass on enabling an agenda that was very out of step with local voters on social issues.

I even had a campaign slogan in mind for the Democrats, which was that New Jersey ain’t Alabama, so why does our congressman vote like an Alabaman?

So, I definitely noticed when an actual New Jersey Democratic candidate for the House cut exactly that kind of commercial.

Josh Gottheimer, like my boss, is a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, and he’s been a prolific fundraiser. However, this northern New Jersey district is not friendly territory for Democrats owing to its wealth and demographic makeup.

The problem for the Republicans, in this case, is that the incumbent, Rep. Scott Garrett, isn’t just empowering a southern social agenda. He actually embodies it and might even be a tad extreme by Alabama standards. For example, his support for the Confederate Flag is inexplicable in Northern New Jersey, but it’s his refusal to give dues to the Republican National Congressional Committee because they recruit and support gay candidates that is truly shocking.

Garrett is also a founding member of the Liberty Caucus. And, while the Liberty caucus does have some other northerners, from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio for example, the only other member from the Mid-Atlantic is Rep. Chris Gibson who is not seeking reelection. Overall, the Liberty Caucus is dominated by people below the Mason-Dixon line.

Garrett has also promoted mandated teaching Intelligent Design in public schools, which is hardly a New Jersey priority.

[Garrett] calls his religious beliefs “conservative.” His two daughters were home-schooled after elementary school, he says, not because he opposes public schools but because “no high school offering a Christian education” was near their home.

Another sign of how out of step he is was his refusal to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act because he didn’t like the requirement that non-English ballots be made available. If you’ve ever been to North Jersey, you know how prevalent Spanish is there. Actually, there are probably more languages spoken in Northern New Jersey than any place in the country other than New York City.

And what can we say about his opposition to Cory Booker’s bill to help 9/11 first responders who wound up with chronic and debilitating illnesses and disabilities? That was completely out of step with the values of his region and even his district.

The Democrats are really going after his seat, and it’s gotten close enough that Roll Call has changed their rating for the contest from ‘Safe Republican’ to ‘Lean Republican.’

In the end, the expensive New York City media market could insulate Garrett from defeat in his North Jersey district, as Democrats must spend considerable money to litigate their case against the incumbent and raise Gottheimer’s profile as an alternative. But Democrats are not letting up.

In some ways, it worries me for the country to be so polarized, and running against the south or southern values seems to contribute to that. But it also doesn’t seem like it should go un-noted that Mid-Atlantic values are substantially different and that electing Republicans to serve in Congress from districts like Scott Garrett’s is empowering to extreme social conservatives, whether they’re from Alabama, Texas, or Wisconsin.

Josh Gottheimer’s ‘Dixie’ ad may be tough, but it’s fair.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.