HOST: New Jersey’s 11th Congressional district is gearing up for a fight. The Northern suburban district has been under Republican leadership for three decades. But last week, longtime incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen announced that he’s retiring at the end of his term. This historically red district may turn blue.
SIGL: If you’re wondering why 12-term incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen has decided not to run for re-election in 2018, you might want go back to a year ago.
SOUND: “TOWN HALL, WHERE’S RODNEY?”
[Audio courtesy of Todd Lichtenstein]
SIGL: That’s the sound last February outside Frelinghuysen’s Morristown office. Seventy-five people were delivering a petition with 5,000 signatures, asking the representative to hold an in-person, town hall meeting. The group, NJ 11th for Change, wanted Frelinghuysen to answer directly to constituents about his votes in the House. Saily Avelenda, a leader in the group, says he hasn’t had a town hall in over three years.
Our representative works for us and is accountable to us and needs to come back and tell us what he’s doing on our behalf and he refused.
SIGL: So every Friday since? Members of the grassroots coalition have gathered outside his office. They still want the meeting. And they want voters to take a closer look at their representative.
Our job, as a group, was essentially to show people, this is who you now have. Not who you thought you put in that position in ’94 but this is who you’re voting in now. Is that the person that represents you?
SIGL: In a statement announcing his resignation, Frelinghuysen didn’t say why he isn’t running for re-election. But people on both sides of the aisle agree that he’s never faced this much vocal opposition for this long.
I don’t think he was used to having people outside of his office protesting every week.
SIGL: John Van Wagner is the president of the Montclair Republican Club. He says that while Frelinghuysen’s generally been viewed as a moderate Republican, lately that reputation’s faded.
He’s been labeled as inching toward very very pro-Trump in Congress, that he’s voted with Trump. He’s been kind of tarred. There’s a lot of anti-Trump sentiment that bobbles around New Jersey and the district itself is is kind of evolving in a different direction.
SIGL: Whichever Republican candidate wins the district primary will face Democratic front runner Mikie Sherrill. Her campaign’s been getting national media attention and has already raised over a million dollars. In a campaign ad, the Navy veteran makes a point to differentiate herself from Frelinghuysen.
Everyday I visit with people around this district, listening and sharing their concerns. That’s something this part of New Jersey hasn’t had in a while.
At Sherrill’s Fairfield campaign headquarters earlier this week, about 200 people packed into the small, first floor office space for a volunteer information night. Enthusiastic volunteers with clipboards greeted people at the door and welcomed them in. Sherrill spoke to the crowd on a small PA system.
Thank you so much for coming tonight, I sincerely sincerely appreciate it.
SIGL: Julian Keenan drove 30 minutes from Montclair to be there that night. He’s been volunteering on the campaign for the last six months. He sees a revived interest in state politics, especially among young people.
New Jersey sees itself often as a Democratic and Republican state and you can only wake up certain voters when certain causes get threatened. So, I think Trump has really woken up a lot of Democratic voters in this state.
SIGL: In June, voters will pick the primary candidates ahead of the November midterm elections. In addition to Sherrill, there are four other Democrats running. So far just one Republican, Martin Hewett, has entered the race. Jennifer Sigl, Columbia Radio News.