Van Hollen targeting N.J. seats, but state GOP officials unafraid

Even though Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), is targeting Republican-held seats in New Jersey, state GOP consultants say if Democrats couldn’t capitalize on their own party’s electoral successes last year, then those seats aren’t attainable in 2008.

Even though Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), is targeting Republican-held seats in New Jersey, state GOP consultants say if Democrats couldn’t capitalize on their own party’s electoral successes last year, then those seats aren’t attainable in 2008.

Van Hollen, in an interview with The Hill, said that in addition to seats in Michigan and Connecticut, seats in blue New Jersey present “some opportunities” for pick-ups, though he didn’t specify which seats the committee is targeting.

Perhaps the most vulnerable of those seats is Rep. Mike Ferguson (R), who narrowly defeated state Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D), winning by just more than 1 percent in the wake of press reports alleging inappropriate conduct with a female college student at a Georgetown bar in 2004.

Ferguson, who denied the allegations, did not comment for this article.

Stender told The Hill this week she is “looking seriously” at going up against Ferguson again in 2008, and she will make a decision by “late summer, early fall.”

Stender said she has spoken with Van Hollen and former DCCC Chairman Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) about the possibility of another showdown with Ferguson.

“I am talking to them, and obviously they are interested in a rematch because the district now looks winnable,” Stender said.

But Ed Traz, a GOP consulting heavyweight in the Garden State, said taking on Ferguson in 2008 would be a “waste” of the DCCC’s money in light of the large number of resources the committee will need to devote to defending freshman incumbents in Republican districts.
“[For] Mike Ferguson, the time to get him was this past cycle,” Traz said. “You’re not going to catch him. I can’t see it ever being worse than it was in Jersey [last] year.”

Another high-level consultant familiar with New Jersey politics said that the additional two years Ferguson will be able to put between himself and the Georgetown incident will allow him time to regroup with voters who soured on him.

“2006 put a scare in him, I think,” the consultant said.

But Stender said she would begin another bid stronger than she was in 2006, having boosted her name recognition in the close race. Hopefully, she said, this would enable her to nullify some of Ferguson’s fundraising advantages.

Summit Mayor Jordan Glatt has also been mentioned as a possible challenger. Glatt did not return phone calls to his office by press time.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R) is another possible target, but only if Assemblyman Jefferson Van Drew (D) can be persuaded to make a run, according to reports.

LoBiondo was never in danger in 2006, beating Democrat Viola Thomas-Hughes with 62 percent of the vote.

The only thing that might change that is the entrance of Van Drew, whom Traz regards as too “pragmatic” a politician to challenge the powerful LoBiondo this cycle.
“The only way Frank LoBiondo leaves Congress is when he decides he doesn’t want to do it anymore,” Traz said.

Van Drew did not return calls to his cell phone.

LoBiondo said he was “surprised” to see reports saying the DCCC is targeting him, given his margin of victory and the fact that he finished the race with about $1.3 million cash on hand in an environment hostile to Republicans across the country.

“Those numbers aren’t too shabby,” he said. “I’m not sure what they’re looking at.
“I’m not sure of a lot of things, but one of the things that I am sure of is I will not be caught asleep at the switch.”

In the state’s 5th district, Republican Rep. Scott GarrettScott GarrettThe Trail 2016: Candidate tug-of-war Dem group slams NJ Republican for 'hateful agenda' Divided GOP to powwow on budget MORE should, by all traditional measures, be in significant trouble heading into 2008.

Garrett won last year with 55 percent of the vote, and a consultant familiar with the district said he has continued to be successful largely because of historically Republican Bergen County, part of which Garrett represents.

The problem, or problems, for Garrett lie in a county GOP that was once consolidated and strong, but in recent years has fallen into near-total disarray — the Rothenberg Report recently noted the party’s county headquarters was padlocked earlier this year because of failure to pay rent.

The phones at the county headquarters are apparently disconnected; repeated calls to the number listed on its website were met with an operator’s message.

That “collapse,” as the consultant put it, could lead to a primary challenge for Garrett, opening the door to an early-funded Democrat riding the strength of a county Democratic Party that has grown in influence.