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Former Navy Pilot Challenging New Jersey’s Rodney Frelinghuysen

Democrats targeting Appropriations Committee chairman in 2018

New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, is a Democratic target in 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, is a Democratic target in 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Navy veteran and federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill announced a challenge to New Jersey Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen Thursday. 

Frelinghuysen, chair of the Appropriations Committee, is a Democratic target this cycle, and he’s facing fresh heat for voting for the Republican health care bill last week. 

“Our Congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen, is voting straight down the line with Donald Trump,” Sherrill said in her announcement statement. “After 22 years in Washington, Congressman Frelinghuysen has stopped listening to us — refusing to even meet with constituents — and is putting Donald Trump and the Republican leaders in Congress first.”

[New Jersey Districts Will Test Democrats’ Suburban Strategy

Frelinghuysen has held telephone town halls, including one this recess week, but he’s refused to meet with constituents for an in-person town hall. One of the wealthiest members of Congress, Frelinghuysen’s family goes back centuries in the area. He’s the sixth member of his family to represent New Jersey in Congress. 

Democrats contest that Frelinghuysen has shifted farther to the right over the 12 terms he’s been in Congress, especially on support for Planned Parenthood. The congressman and his wife used to donate to the local chapter, but since 2015, he’s sided with the House GOP conference on votes that would allow grants or reimbursements to be denied to the women’s health organization. 

“We can’t allow Rodney Frelinghuysen and Donald Trump to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood,” said Sherrill, who lives in Montclair with her husband and four kids. 

A former Sea King helicopter pilot, Sherrill graduated from the Naval Academy and spent 10 years on active duty, which took her to Europe and the Middle East. After leaving the Navy in 2003, she went to Georgetown University for law school and became an assistant U.S. attorney. 

Sherrill isn’t the only Democrat the national party has been talking to in this district. Assemblyman John McKeon is also considering a bid. Washington Rep. Denny Heck, co-chair of recruitment for the Democratic Congressional Committee, recently met with McKeon upon the recommendation of Democrats in the state’s delegation. 

McKeon sees himself as a moderate who can run strong on economic issues in a traditionally fiscally conservative district.

“I’m not even talking about gun control and Planned Parenthood,” he said Tuesday, stressing that those are issues he’s passionate about and that the congressman has moved too far to the right. “But I’m just talking about dollars and cents,” he said. 

McKeon said he’d make a decision about running later this year, while weighing his commitment to the legislature, where he’s been outspoken on environmental issues. Serving in the state legislature could become a more attractive gig if Democrats win control of the governor’s mansion this fall. 

This affluent community, which includes New York City suburban towns and rural horse country, isn’t normally targeted by Democrats. Arizona Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney both carried this district by more than 5 points in 2008 and 2012, respectively.

But President Donald Trump’s margin was narrower; he won by less than one point. The party is hopeful that Trump’s unpopularity among wealthy, well-educated voters can bring down Frelinghuysen, too. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican

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