By Art Gallagher
The Star Ledger’s Auditor is raising the question.
The members of the Redistricting Commission must be appointed by June 15. The Auditor says he/she was told that Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski plans to void the appointment of Belmar resident Maggie Moran to the commission. Moran, former Governor Corzine’s deputy chief of staff and campaign manager, was appointed to the commission by former Chairman Joe Cryan, at Pallone’s urging, as one of Cryan’s last acts before turning the chairmanship over to Wisniewski.
Moran, who is the wife of Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty, is supposed to be Pallone’s eyes and ears on the commission. Her removal would be a blow to Pallone, according to The Auditor, this year in particular as New Jersey is losing a congressional district. One incumbent congressman will lose his job regardless of the electoral outcome. The Auditor implies that Democratic boss George Norcross and Republican Governor Chris Christie would like that incumbent to be Pallone.
How would that work?
Pallone’s 6th district borders the 4th, 7th, 12th and 13th districts. He resides in Long Branch which is in the south east coastal part of the district.
While it is entirely possible in New Jersey that a gerrymandered district that includes Long Branch of Monmouth County could be combined with Clinton Township in Hunterdon County, home of 7th district Republican Congressman Leonard Lance or West New York, Hudson County, home of 13th district Democratic Congressman Albio Sires, neither scenario is likely.
Combining Pallone’s 6th with Rush Holt’s 12th would make sense based on geography as the 12th shares the largest border with the 6th. Even though neither Pallone or Holt is particularly well liked by Democratic leaders in New Jersey or Washington, it is unlikely that the Democrats would surrender a district without a fight.
Which would leave a match up between New Jersey’s two most senior congressmen, Pallone who has been in Congress since 1988 and 4th district Congressman Republican Chris Smith who has served since 1981. While it would be unusual that seniority be discarded as an incumbent protection consideration during a redistricting battle, an argument could be made along the lines of “continuity of representation.” Pallone first went to Congress as the representative of the 3rd district after the death of Congressman James Howard. Much of the pre-1992 3rd district is now part of the 4th.
Even with his $4 million war chest, it is hard to imagine Pallone beating Smith in a combined district that includes southeast Monmouth and portions of Republican Ocean and Burlington counties. Smith would dominate in his Mercer home turf.
Pallone vs. Smith would be a great race. It probably won’t happen. I’ll explain why at the end of this piece. But first let’s have some fun speculating about the fallout of such a district.
If Long Branch and Pallone are moved south into a district combined with portions of Smith’s (of Hamilton in Mercer County) 4th district, it would make sense that the Northern Monmouth portions of the present 6th district would be folded into the Rush Holt’s 12th district.
That would create an interesting race for the GOP nomination in the 12th. Diane Gooch, Mike Halfacre, Anna Little, and Scott Sipprelle could all be contenders for that nomination.
Little beat Gooch for the 6th district nomination primary by 83 votes before losing to Pallone by 11% in the 2010 general election. She declared that a loss of only 11% was a victory and launched her 2012 race against Pallone in the weirdest election night concession speech ever. Since election night 2010 Little has alienated herself from both her local Tea Party and establishment GOP supporters. She’s chomping at the bit for a rematch with both Gooch and Pallone, but she’s referred to as a “coo coo bird” by former supporters. A Pallone-Smith match up would wreck havoc on her delusions. Only Little, her family and Larry Cirignano, her escort/handler/manager/driver/tenant, believe Anna Little will ever be nominated for congress again.
Halfacre, the Mayor of Fair Haven, has been kicking himself for bowing out of the race for the 12th district nomination since Tea Party candidate David Corsi beat Sipprelle in Monmouth County in the 2010 primary. Sipprelle won the nomination by virtue of his margin of victory in Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Hunterdon before losing to Holt by 7% in the general.
Halfacre was the Tea Party favorite during his contentious race against Sipprelle for the party lines in 2010. Sipprelle won all the county party lines and Halfacre correctly concluded that a primary against Sipprelle without at least the Monmouth or Middlesex lines was not winnable. Corsi’s Monmouth victory naturally lead to “what ifs?” Little’s narrow victory over Gooch created additional “what ifs?”
But the self funding Sipprelle did not spend any money to defeat Corsi. Gooch took victory over Little for granted in the primary. Given how contentious the Sipprelle-Halfacre county conventions/screenings were, it is likely that a primary between to two would have been bloody and expensive. Halfacre couldn’t have matched Sipprelle’s money.
Halfacre would have a heavy lift to regain his Tea Party support. If either Gooch or Sipprelle seek the nomination, he would have a heavier lift to raise the money necessary to compete. After Little’s victory in the 2010 primary, it will be a long time before any candidate or county party organization takes a Tea Party challenge for granted. Halfacre’s best hope for a nomination against Holt is for both Gooch and Sipprelle to conclude that 2012, a presidential year with Obama leading the ticket, is not the year to take on Holt.
Both Gooch and Sipprelle are staying in front of the party faithful. Gooch with Strong New Jersey and Sipprelle with the Lincoln Club of New Jersey, organizations each has founded since losing their respective races. Gooch has been open about wanting to run for congress again, depending on how the districts are drawn. Sipprelle has been coy about a future candidacy.
A Gooch-Sipprelle primary defies imagination. Given the money both could spend on such a race, a deal would likely be brokered by the state and county party chairmen before it would occur. But if ego got the better of either of them, it would be quite a race. A more sensible sceanario would be for one of the millionaires to take on U.S . Senator Robert Menendez while the other takes on Holt.
So while redistricting Pallone and Smith into the same district could make the Republican nomination contest in the Holt’s district more interesting, a Pallone-Smith battle is unlikely even should a district be drawn that way. Should such a district be drawn look for Pallone to retire from the House and use his hefty war chest as a down payment for a statewide race for Governor in 2013.
Pallone’s $4 million war chest would clear the field of Democratic candidates for Governor, unless Chris Christie isn’t a candidate or has anemic poll numbers, neither of which is likely. Christie would love to defeat Pallone, which he would but it would probably be a close race. Pallone would then run for U.S. Senate in 2014, assuming Frank Lautenberg finally retires.