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Race Ratings: Democrats Likely to Lose Edge in New Jersey Delegation

Democrats lost big in New Jersey redistricting this cycle.

In reapportionment, the Garden State lost a House seat, and because no Members announced retirements, an independent commission had the grim task of pitting two lawmakers against each other.

The map technically drew Democratic Rep. Steven Rothman into Republican Rep. Scott Garrett’s 5th district, but Rothman opted instead to run in the 9th district against fellow Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell. The winner will be decided in the primary, which will be the state’s top race to watch this cycle.

The level of competition that the state will see in November remains unclear. Democrats are hopeful that they can make Garrett sweat in the 5th district and that former Rep. John Adler’s (D) widow, Shelley, can take back her husband’s seat from freshman Rep. Jon Runyan (R). At this point, Republicans are confident they can hold both seats.

Overall, Democrats are bullish on the coattails that President Barack Obama and Sen. Bob Menendez will provide for House candidates. But thanks to the new map, the party will likely lose its current edge in the House delegation. Unless Democrats can pick off a seat, the new makeup will likely be six Republicans and six Democrats in 2013.

1st district

Incumbent: Robert Andrews (D)

11th term (63 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

Redistricting made this seat safer for Andrews. He’s not as flush with money as other New Jersey politicians because of his failed 2008 Senate run, but this is a safe seat made safer, and no primary challenges are on the horizon.

2nd district

Incumbent: Frank LoBiondo (R)

9th term (66 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

On paper, this seat is competitive; in practice, it is not. So far.

Democrats anticipate Obama doing well in this district, but LoBiondo seems a safe bet for re-election. One national Democrat even said this seat demographically is easier to win than the state’s more closely watched districts, the 3rd and the 5th.

But a strong challenger to LoBiondo has eluded Democrats. National Democrats maintain they are still actively recruiting a candidate for this seat, but until a viable challenger emerges, LoBiondo will likely be coming back for a 10th term.

3rd district

Incumbent: Jon Runyan (R)

1st term (50 percent)

Rating: Leans Republican

Runyan narrowly beat Adler in 2010. Democrats had high hopes that he might be hurt in redistricting. Instead, the district was drawn to be slightly more favorable to Runyan’s re-election chances.

Adler’s widow, attorney Shelley Adler, announced her candidacy and will have built-in name identification in the district.

John Adler’s 2008 election was a historical anomaly. He was the first Democrat in generations to hold the seat. It will be an uphill battle for Shelley Adler, but Democrats say it is within reach.

This race is where Democrats place their highest hopes for a pickup in the Garden State. One New Jersey Democrat said that should the DCCC choose to invest considerable money, it could push the race into the tossup column.

Republicans say that in the Philadelphia television market, a DCCC investment would have to be exponential to make a difference in the race.

Both sides are bullish on their chances.

4th district

Incumbent: Chris Smith (R)

16th term (69 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

Redistricting gave Smith a sizable number of new constituents, but unless a primary challenge emerges, he should be in good shape for re-election.

5th district

Incumbent: Scott Garrett (R)

5th term (65 percent)

Rating: Likely Republican

Garrett’s district gained some Democratic voters in redistricting, and Democrats are looking to play hard here. They say Garrett’s brand of conservatism does not fit his redrawn district, and with a moderate Democratic recruit, they could win this seat.

Rep. Steve Rothman (D) was drawn into this district but opted to run in the Democratic 9th district. Democrats and Republicans disagree on whether he could have defeated Garrett, but even if he did, he would have had to fight for re-election for the next decade.

Rothman’s liberal voting record could have proven difficult and would have created a stark contrast to the very conservative Garrett.

Garrett’s $1.7 million war chest, the fact that this district is covered by the expensive New York media market and uncertainty about the Democratic challenger make this a Likely Republican district. Democrats are actively recruiting candidates and should they field a strong nominee with fundraising prowess, this could be a race to watch.

6th district

Incumbent: Frank Pallone (D)

12th term (55 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

Pallone saw a small improvement for Democrats in his district under the new map. No serious primary challenger is on the radar. As it stands, Pallone is on safe footing for a 13th term.

National Republicans caution not to write off the district, though, depending on whether they can recruit a serious challenger.

7th district

Incumbent: Leonard Lance (R)

2nd term (59 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

One Democrat described Lance’s re-election prospects as “in like Flynn.” Lance is perceived as one of the biggest winners in redistricting. Republicans in the state say Lance was the unintended beneficiary of Democratic attempts to protect Rothman and Pascrell in north New Jersey.

8th district

Incumbent: Albio Sires (D)

3rd term (74 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

There is little question in the Garden State that Sires will return to Congress in 2013.

9th district

Member vs. Member: Bill Pascrell (D) vs. Steven Rothman (D)

8th term (63 percent); 8th term (61 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

Democratic heartburn isn’t the appropriate term for this race. It’s heartache.

New Jersey lost a seat in redistricting, and a bipartisan commission ended up drawing lines that put Rothman in the 5th district. He could have run against Garrett, and some say he might have won.

Instead, he opted to change residence and move to the 9th, where a sizable number of his current constituents reside.

Early on, Democrats said Rothman had the numbers edge. But Pascrell has come out of the gate fighting with tough press releases and tough ads.

The district is in the New York City suburbs. Ad rates are sky-high, and both candidates have nearly $2 million in cash on hand. But there is angst in New Jersey Democratic circles that the two candidates will crucify each other on the airwaves, when the money could have been spent reinforcing the party during the Gov. Chris Christie Republican-era.

Regardless of who wins, this Member-vs.-Member race means Democrats will lose one Member of the delegation.

10th district

Incumbent: Donald Payne (D)

12th term (85 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

A Democrat will hold this seat in 2013, and it will probably be Payne.

Payne’s recent announcement that he is battling colon cancer does not change his re-election drive, according to his chief of staff. In a statement from his office, Payne is expected to make a full recovery. But Newark Councilman Ron Rice is challenging Payne’s hold on the district. One state Democrat said the primary was “going to be a war.”

It will be a battle of two generations of African-Americans, and Rice is hungry.

Democrats said Payne was aware of the challenge and has been preparing for the primary. He has $1.4 million in cash on hand to protect his seat. In the end, the most influential players in New Jersey Democratic politics are the county party operatives, and Payne is expected to have that support.

It is nearly impossible to overcome the county machine apparatus, so Rice is a long shot to take down the incumbent.

If, though, Payne decides to not seek re-election, Donald Payne Jr. has been groomed to run for the seat.

Regardless of whether he wins, Rice will increase his name identification in the area and is laying the groundwork for his political future.

11th district

Incumbent: Rodney Frelinghuysen (R)

9th term (67 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

Frelinghuysen inherited some Democrats from Pascrell’s old district, but few are watching this race closely. The Frelinghuysen name is a centuries-old brand in Garden State politics, and he should have no problem earning a 10th term.

12th district

Incumbent: Rush Holt (D)

7th term (53 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

Holt is considered another big winner in redistricting. He lost most of his Republican constituents and will likely have the seat as long as he wants it.

Republicans maintain businessman Eric Beck is a great recruit, but with the demographic changes, it will be an uphill climb.

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