Representative Steve Rothman’s Defeat

Representative Steve Rothman’s Defeat

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


In Northern New Jersey Congressman Steve Rothman lost his primary election bid on Tuesday to fellow Congressman Bill Pascrell in a bitterly fought election between two eight term Democratic incumbents whose congressional voting records were virtually identical.  The two long standing House Members were thrown into a contest against each other after the 2010 census redistricting required New Jersey to lose a seat in Congress. As Rothman’s home was now situated in a more conservative district represented by five term Congressman Scott Garrett, he opted to move back to his old home in the district where Pascrell lived and fight for re-election there.

There is nothing very unusual about this sequence of events which occur around the country every decade, except for a rather subtle scene which played out within New Jersey Democratic politics. Had Rothman stayed in Fair Lawn and challenged the incumbent Garrett in what would have been a very brutal general election contest between a “right-to-life”, very conservative Republican and a Jewish liberal Democrat, he might well have lost. It certainly would have been a very tough and ugly campaign for Rothman but might have given the Democrats the possibility of having a strong incumbent possibly upsetting Garrett. In the current political climate Rothman opted for what he thought would be a likelier—and safer—possibility. He ran in the Democratic primary against Pascrell.

Reports had circulated that the State and national Democratic Party would have helped fund a major challenge to Garrett. In addition, there were discussions that should Rothman lose, he would been given an inside track to the Democratic nomination for Senate should Senator Frank Lautenberg not seek re-election in 2014.

There was a time that party loyalists did what was best for the Party.  Possibly defeating Garrett would have helped the Democrats try to regain control of the House or at least reduce the Republican power there. In this case, Rothman ran in a seat which is likely to remain Democratic.

There is a further note to Rothman’s defeat. Baring a surprise victory by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is now the Republican challenging Pascrell, Rothman’s loss together with a number of other departures around the country, will reduce the number of Jewish Members in the House probably to closer to 25 rather than over 30. This is a drift that has been evolving slowly for reasons that might be related to a growing Jewish disconnection and disaffection with the Democratic Party as well as their very slow entre into the Republican Party.

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