Pals Become Foes in Fight for New Districts
Over 15 years as U.S. congressmen from northern New Jersey (BEESNJ), Democrats Bill Pascrell Jr. and Steve Rothman can point to almost identical voting records.
Arriving in Washington at the same time from similar paths -- each is a former mayor -- Pascrell has voted with his party’s majority 94 percent of the time and Rothman 93 percent, according to Open Congress, a non-partisan research website. Their politics, hashed out over dinners and train rides to and from the nation’s capital, made for “a good friendship,” Rothman, 59, said in an interview.
The goodwill dissolved last month. New boundaries stemming from the 2010 Census put Rothman in the district represented by Scott Garrett, 52, a five-term Republican.
Rothman, rather than face an opponent hailed as “a beacon of light” by Tea Party activists, decided to move to Pascrell’s district. The Democrats will compete in a June 5 primary, and the winner will be favored in November in a district tilting toward their party.
“He keeps saying, ‘Bill is my friend,’” Pascrell, 75, said of Rothman in an interview. “Friends don’t treat each other this way.”
The U.S. Constitution mandates redistricting every 10 years so that the House’s 435 seats reflect population shifts. For the 2012 election, 10 states lost a total 12 seats to eight growing states, mostly in the Southeast and West. In all states, changing growth and residency patterns mean redrawn districts.
Buddies to Combatants
The upshot: the new boundaries can turn longtime political buddies into partisan combatants.
Primaries pitting House incumbents against one another are under way or a possibility in states including Arizona, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. New York, which lost two congressional seats in the Census to give it 27, is among the up-in-the-air states, with its revised map yet to be completed.
The costliest intramural race is predicted to occur in California (BEESCA), where a newly formed non-partisan commission used Census results to reconfigure the state’s 53 House seats.
Battling in a Los Angeles-area district are Democrat Howard Berman, 70, who was elected in 1982 and is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Brad Sherman, 57, a 15- year lawmaker who serves on Foreign Affairs and Financial Services.
The two were “clearly allies,” particularly on support for Israel, Parke Skelton, a spokesman for Sherman, said in an interview.
On 45 of 49 issues considered “hot” because of regional or national interest, Berman and Sherman voted similarly, according to Open Congress.
On June 5, they will be part of all the candidates in the district vying in a nonpartisan primary, and the top two finishers -- regardless of party -- will meet in November.
“Things are a little strained right now,” Skelton said of the congressmen’s relationship since redistricting.
Berman’s campaign spokeswoman, Gene Smith, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
Berman had $2.25 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission data. Affiliates of Time Warner, General Electric and Walt Disney Co. were among his top backers, and he had individual donations from Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and Tom Hanks.
Sherman, with $3.72 million as of Sept. 30, has support from members of unions including the Teamsters and United Auto Workers, plus electrical, plumbing and other trades.
The Sherman-Berman race should set a fundraising record for a House primary, said Stu Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Washington-based Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter.
“They can both raise a ton of money,” Rothenberg said in an interview. “It has all the earmarks of a memorable race.”
In Ohio, with a House delegation that shrinks by two seats to 16, eight-term Democrat Dennis Kucinich last month announced he is running against 15-term Democrat Marcy Kaptur in a reconfigured district in the state’s northern tier.
Kucinich, 65, is known nationally for having sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and 2008, with his candidacy based largely on his opposition to the Iraq war. In the House, he filed unsuccessful impeachment resolutions against then-President George W. Bush and then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
Kaptur, the longest-serving woman currently in the House and the second-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, was a force behind the National World War II Memorial in Washington that was dedicated in 2004, first introducing a bill proposing it in 1987.
Steve Fought, a spokesman for Kaptur, said Kucinich worked with Ohio Republicans to create a district that will be competitive between the two Democrats in a March 6 primary.
“Congressman Kucinich was not on our team,” Fought said in an interview. “In a state like Ohio that’s been devastated by the recession, one of the hardest-hit states in the country, having someone like Representative Kaptur, with that much clout on Appropriations, is a positive. To lose that seniority and that influence can in no way be good for a state with as many economic challenges as Ohio (BEESOH).”
A phone call for comment to the Kucinich re-election headquarters in Cleveland wasn’t returned.
In an interview the day he filed to challenge Kaptur, Kucinich on Dec. 28 said he likes his chances against her because the re-designed district includes “the heart of my political base” in the Cleveland area.
In Arizona (NFSEAZ), where the House delegation grows a seat to nine, the redrawing process collapsed much of Republican Representative Ben Quayle’s district into one that includes Republican Representative David Schweikert’s home.
Both were elected in 2010, part of the Republican wave that gave the party control of the House. Schweikert, 49, has said he is running in the district in which he resides. Quayle, the 35- year-old son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, hasn’t yet announced his plans.
“I don’t have a time frame on that,” Quayle’s press secretary, Zach Howell, said in a Jan. 24 interview.
In the New Jersey Democrat-on-Democrat race, as of Sept. 30 Pascrell had $1.43 million on hand and Rothman $1.74 million, federal campaign finance records show. Each has spent about that much on their entire campaigns in the past.
“Fundraising is going to be tricky in a head-on-head primary campaign,” Brigid Harrison, a professor of law and political science at New Jersey’s Montclair State University, said in an interview. “They have plenty of potential sources out there and I do see them raising millions more.”
On the issues, “when you look at their voting records, there’s just so little to differentiate them,” Harrison said.
The two have spent much of January releasing lists of endorsements.
No such pressure weighs on Garrett, the Republican whom Rothman decided not to contest.
“A Democrat in that district is going to need high name recognition and deep pockets” to have a chance against him, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey. “Once you’re in office for as many years as Garrett is in office, the Democrats’ hands are tied.”
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