NORPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, has been urging its Republican members in the Ninth Congressional District to reregister as Democrats so they can support Rep. Steve Rothman in the June 5 primary over fellow incumbent, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 8).
The two men are pitted against one another in the redrawn district.
In an April 3 e-mail to its members, NORPAC president Ben Chouake said his call to change party registration was “a matter of urgency.” The deadline for making the switch was April 11.
Although NORPAC has backed Pascrell in the past, it has thrown its weight behind Rothman this time around, raising $125,000 for the Englewood Democrat at events held on two consecutive Sundays, March 11 and 18.
“Rothman is extremely focused on U.S.-Israel relations. It has been a lifelong dream for him,” Chouake told NJ Jewish News. “Pascrell has basically been a solid vote on a lot of matters, including Iran, but on issues where you get into Israeli-Palestinian relations, he tries to do the right thing, but he also tries to cater to the Palestinian constituency and the Muslim constituency in his community.”
In a related story, two Passaic city councilmen are also urging their Republican constituents to switch parties to vote for Rothman. Councilmen Chaim M. Munk and Daniel J. Schwartz, both Orthodox Jews, made the request in a March 27 letter paid for by the Rothman campaign, The Record reported.
A similar request by Orthodox synagogue presidents in Passaic to local GOP members came in February.
Pascrell is not without prominent Jewish supporters. Among them are former U.S. Rep. Herb Klein of Little Falls, who preceded Pascrell as the Eighth District’s congressman, and David Steiner, a West Orange real estate developer and past president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Reacting to NORPAC’s call for Republicans to register as Democrats, Pascrell’s chief of staff, Ben Rich, told NJJN, “Congressman Pascrell has been a long-term partner in advancing issues of importance to Israel and has always been a fighter for the priorities of the Jewish community while serving as a congressman. He’s been heralded for these efforts by both Steve Rothman and [NJ Democratic Assemblyman (D-Dist. 36) and Passaic council member] Gary Schaer and has a long list of Jewish supporters.
“Unlike our opponent, Congressman Pascrell would not consider paying to have Republicans switch their affiliation to Democrat to impact a Democratic primary, but we certainly believe everyone has a right to do what they wish with their vote,” Rich said.
Changing parties to aid a candidate “is not illegal, and therefore for many people in politics it is kosher,” said Ben Dworkin, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics and adjunct assistant professor of political science at Rider. “This is a tactic that has been used by both parties that is not uncommon. It is sort of the nature of the game”
GOP loyalists who change parties will be able to resume their Republican identities after the primary. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the Englewood author and media personality, is seeking the Republican nod.
Chouake — a registered Republican who plans to become a Democrat, at least temporarily — said NORPAC will back Rothman in the general election if he wins the primary.
“Some people are real Democrats, no matter what. Some people are real Republicans, no matter what,” he told NJJN in a March 19 telephone interview. “For the rest of us mere mortals, it is an issue thing. You want to be in the game.”