New Jersey Democrat faces primary challenge from former volunteer

Gottheimer first won the seat of a seven-term Republican in 2016, but Kreibich is now arguing that she is out of step with the changing politics of her northern New Jersey district, which she says has become more liberal during the Trump era. Gottheimer is, by a variety of metrics from a variety of sources, one of the most conservative Democratic legislators on Capitol Hill. He is also co-chair of the bipartisan group of problem solvers, which produces more power, as illustrated in contentious terms during the border battle, than House progressives within the Democratic group, despite generating far fewer headlines.

GovTrack, the independent data analyst in Congress, ranked Gottheimer as the second most conservative member of the House Democrats and, in 2018, voted with Trump more than 76% of the time, according to the Quarterly Congress. That number plummeted to 5% in 2019, which the Gottheimer campaign points to as evidence that the measure itself is not reliable.

Kreibich, 45, and his allies have criticized Gottheimer for his voting record, questioning his partisan credentials and labeling him “Trump’s favorite Democrat.” His campaign launched a trolling website, “,” which added stories about his most controversial votes and, before linking to his own home page, asked: “Do you want to choose a true Democrat for Congress in NJ- 5?”

Gottheimer, also 45, called the site a “gimmick” and aggressively defended his good faith, while promoting his support of elected officials in the state and a host of liberal groups and national Democratic leaders.

“I am a lifelong Democrat,” he said. “I have the support of everyone from House Speaker and Hakeem Jeffries to Cory (Booker), Planned Parenthood, Moms Demand Action, Labor and the Black Caucus of Congress. So I’m a Democrat, a lifelong Democrat and very Proud of that. There is some kind of fringe of the party and they may not agree with everything we agree on, but the key is to be a great tent party. “

Different views of the district

Kreibich moved to the United States from India when he was 11 years old. She became a U.S. citizen after turning 18. A neuroscientist with no political experience, she was shocked by Trump’s 2016 victory, attending the Women’s March in Washington before running – for the first time – for a seat on the Glen Rock, New Jersey city council in 2017. She won and became its first member from South Asia when he took office the following year.

Despite his growing unease with Gottheimer, Kreibich supported his run for a second term in 2018, which turned into a shock during a midterm cycle that saw Democrats retake the majority of the House.

“Did you know that Josh was not as progressive as you wanted him to be? Yes. Did you also know that he was actually more conservative than moderate? Yes. Did I feel that he had a choice? No, neither of us did,” Kreibich told CNN. “But we said, we will make sure we keep this district blue.”

And they do it like that. After a limited victory in 2016, Gottheimer dusted off his Republican opponent two years later, winning re-election by nearly 14 percentage points. But Gottheimer and Kreibich have totally different views of what that means before the next general election, and about the composition of their district.

Gottheimer told CNN that Democrats shouldn’t be fooled by that surprising margin. Trump won the district in 2016, and conservative Republican Rep. Scott Garrett, whom Gottheimer defeated on that catastrophic night for the party, served there for more than a decade. The district, according to Gottheimer, has not fundamentally changed since then: the 2018 blue wave subsided, he said, on a less successful streak of results at the 2019 year-end races.

“I think if it is me or someone else, we can lose this district. It is a very difficult district,” he said. “The other side will attack us hard as always. They spend a lot of money and attack hard. My two Republican opponents are leaning heavily on Trump. He is very popular in the district, he is still popular in the district.” . So it’s going to be a difficult race again. “

Kreibich did not suggest that Democrats be a lock to retain the seat, but argued that the district is evolving, and Gottheimer, a former Microsoft executive and speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, has not responded to increasing diversity and progressivism. electorate.

“It is very clear why Josh won in 2018, it is because of women like me,” said Kreibich. “There was a seismic shift in NJ-5. And if you weren’t here, it’s hard to explain that, although I suppose it was a microcosm of what had been happening across the United States, in terms of women waking up. For the first time in all my life was part of a trend and I didn’t realize it. “

As the suburbs seemed to be changing, so was the Democratic Party. Progressive newcomers, many inspired by Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 main campaign, launched a series of long-term challenges, most of which failed, to moderate and traditionally liberal Democratic Democrats in 2018. But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez broke through, ousting Joe Crowley, then the fourth House Democrat, in New York, before Ayanna Pressley defeated Mike Capuano in Massachusetts. Sanders and Pressley backed Kreibich this year. Marie Newman, who nearly ousted Democratic Conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois two years ago, hit him this time in March. And two weeks ago, former high school principal Jamaal Bowman took another hit, likely ending Representative Eliot Engel’s three-decade career in the Bronx and Westchester.
The strong performance of progressives in New York, including Bowman, Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres, gave Kreibich a late boost, who is trying to pull off his own surprise.

“I have seen many more interested people, interested voters, who really feel that sense of hope for what happened in New York and want to bring that to New Jersey,” he said. “Practically, it means more volunteers, better amplification on social networks, and many more people who come to visit our town halls, to see our positions and really give us an opportunity.”

Drawing the battle lines

Gottheimer, despite a 10-to-1 fundraising lead: He had over $ 8 million in cash available the last week before elementary school, a staggering sum that helps explain why some call it the “Fundraising Machine of human funds “- it seems I will also take Kreibich seriously. He took a sharp line defending his record during a recent debate on local radio and tried to portray his rival as a radical who risked giving the district back to the Republicans in November.

“I am proud to be running with Joe Biden and Cory Booker,” he said, “and I will be honest, if Bernie Sanders, socialized medicine and extremism are more of your opinion, then my opponent is probably your candidate.”

Kreibich, who supports “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, has more in common with Newman and California Representative Katie Porter, a protégé of Senator Elizabeth Warren, than “the squad.” Its most prominent external sponsors come from Indivisible, which launched after the 2016 Trump election, and also backed Newman earlier this year. His political arm has spent on digital ads and direct mail backing Kreibich, whose message has been more partisan (highlighting Gottheimer’s propensity to vote with Republicans) than ideological.

Lucy Solomon, political director of Indivisible’s independent spending group, acknowledged that Kreibich faces an uphill battle, but suggested that Gottheimer’s attempt to make her an extremist would fail.

“Gottheimer is still running and legislating like he’s in a purple-trending red-light district, and we believe the district has changed and that’s no longer the case,” said Solomon. “A lot of the problems you’re using as a progressive sack man are things that generally, and especially at the moment we are in now, really resonate with voters.”

New Jersey was one of the states originally most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. She delayed her primary elections and, unlike New York, where ballots were to be requested in absentia, she sent them to all Democratic voters. Unaffiliated voters too, if they agree to identify themselves as Democrats, will be able to cast a vote in the primaries, potentially creating a larger and less predictable electorate.

Solomon said the “rarity” that the coronavirus injected into the campaign has given his group and his efforts on behalf of Kreibich, a new avenue to pursue persuasive voters.

“Much of the work we’ve been doing on the (independent spending) side in this race has been talking to voters who may never have felt a reason to vote in a Democratic primary before,” Solomon said. “But now that there is a candidate who is not only aware, but on the right side of these issues, we hope that this can encourage some of these voters to participate.”