By Randy Bergmann
Labor Day marked the unofficial end of the COVID summer as well as the unofficial start in earnest of the political campaign season.
The period between Labor Day and Election Day is when voters begin paying more attention to who’s running for which office and trying to catch up on the issues.
That process, of course, began long ago in the race for the presidency, which has tended to drown out interest in the other races at the federal, state and local level.
Who realizes, for instance, that Cory Booker, fresh off his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, is seeking re-election to his second six-year Senate term? And how many people have even heard of his Republican opponent and sacrificial lamb, Rik Mehta?
If you are looking for information about Mehta, you will have to cull most of it from his website. There is virtually nothing about him or the Booker-Mehta matchup online. So far, the race has all but been ignored.
The lack of coverage is partly understandable. Only one race seems to matter in November: Trump vs. Biden. The fate of democracy could hang in the balance. This year’s Senate race has even less juice than usual. A Republican hasn’t won a Senate seat in New Jersey in 48 years. Only one other state, Hawaii, can say that.
Mehta, whose website describes him as “a biotech entrepreneur, innovator, [and] healthcare policy expert,” is making his first run for political office. Calling him a long shot would be an understatement.
Those voting for Booker, however, could well end up having some other Democrat representing them should he be offered and accept a Cabinet position if Joe Biden wins in November. Gov. Murphy would name Booker’s replacement, who would serve until a new election was held.
The presidential race also has largely overshadowed congressional races in New Jersey – all 12 are up for grabs, with at least four deemed competitive – as well as county freeholder, municipal and school board elections. There are no state Assembly or Senate races this year.
The Cook Political Report rates two congressional districts a tossup — the 2nd, which includes Long Beach Island (Republican incumbent Jeff Van Drew vs. Amy Kennedy) and the 3rd, which includes 18 other Ocean County municipalities (Democratic incumbent Andy Kim vs. businessman David Richter).
Cook expects two other district races to be close, in the 5th (Democratic incumbent Josh Gottheimer vs. businessman Frank Pallotta) and in the 7th (incumbent Democrat Tom Malinowski vs. state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr.).
In the 4th District, which includes portions of Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer counties, Republican Chris Smith, who has won 20 consecutive elections, most by at least 60% percent of the vote, will be taking on one of his former interns, a human rights litigation attorney, Stephanie Schmid.
Her candidacy is likely to be weakened by thank you letters she sent Smith after completing a high school internship with him. One letter stated that “It’s wonderful to know that in a small way I had a chance to help a dedicated and tireless advocate for human rights and Christianity through the world.” She has told a far different story on her Twitter account.
In the 6th District, which covers parts of Monmouth and Middlesex counties, Democrat Frank Pallone is expected to coast to his 17th two-year term in Congress. Opponent Christian Onuoho, a clinical researcher, won the Republican primary by barely enough write-in votes to be eligible for the general election. His only previous political experience is as a member of the Sayreville Recreation Advisory Board.
There also are three statewide ballot questions, including whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Brace yourself for a barrage TV and radio spots touting its benefits.
Randy Bergmann is the former Editorial Page Editor of The Asbury Park Press. The column was originally posted on Randy’s facebook page