Reps. Rothman (D) and Garrett (R) will face off, if both choose to stay where they are and seek reelection.
The tie-breaking member of New Jersey’s bipartisan redistricting commission has sided with a Republican-drawn map for the state’s congressional districts, merging the territories of a liberal Democrat and one of the House’s most conservative Republicans.
The new Garden State map sets the stage for a general election showdown in 2012 between Reps. Steve Rothman (D) and Scott Garrett (R), if both choose to stay where they are and seek reelection. But much of Rothman’s old district was drawn into Rep. Bill Pascrell’s (D), so it could be tempting for Rothman to challenge a fellow Democrat instead.
The panel’s tiebreaker, Rutgers Law School Dean John Farmer, notified the two parties Friday that he had chosen the GOP map, The Record reported. Garrett is expected to have an advantage of about 4 points in the new district, based on past election results.
New Jersey lost one seat in the once-per-decade map-redrawing process due to population growth that was slower than in other parts of the country. The new map makes it likely that each party will hold six of New Jersey’s 12 House seats.
Other changes to the state’s congressional map will shore up Reps. Leonard Lance (R) and Jon Runyan (R), according to PolitickerNJ.
Rothman and Garrett would likely have little trouble winning their primary races if they seek reelection in the new district they were both drawn into, but what would happen in the incumbent-vs.-incumbent showdown is less clear. Each had more than $1.5 million in the bank to use for his reelection, as of the end of September.
Garrett, a Tea Party-affiliated Republican serving in the House since 2002, could face voter backlash from the perception that the GOP-controlled House has obstructed progress on the economy.
But alongside Rothman’s name on the ballot will be another prominent Democrat — President Obama — who received the early and vocal support of Rothman during the 2008 Democratic primary. Obama won big in New Jersey that year, but his approval ratings in the state, as elsewhere, have dipped below 50 percent, and it remains to be seen whether he will be a boost or a drag for down-ballot Garden State Democrats in 2012.
All in all, the once-per-decade map-redrawing process in New Jersey was characterized by a remarkable lack of rancor and hostility, especially compared to other states that also lost congressional seats and had to decide whether to dismantle Republican or Democratic territory. Commission members, who holed up in a suite of hotel rooms starting earlier in December, wrapped up the process in a matter of weeks without major threats of legal action.
Democrats scored a big win earlier in the year when the new map for New Jersey’s legislative districts shored up their chances to hold on to control of the state Legislature over the next decade.
— This post was updated at 12:21 p.m.