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Rating Change: New Jersey Open Seat Shifts to Toss-Up

Trump carried Frelinghuysen’s 11th District by 1 point in 2016

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen will retire at the end of his current term, leaving behind a competitive seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen will retire at the end of his current term, leaving behind a competitive seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s retirement makes his 11th District of New Jersey even more vulnerable for his party. 

While the congressman had some of his own baggage — an employee at a local bank landed in hot water with her employer when the congressman alerted the CEO that she was a Democratic activist — and it was unclear whether he was ready for a difficult re-election fight, his family has been a staple of New Jersey politics for generations and Frelinghuysen outperformed Donald Trump in the district in 2016. 

Even if the Frelinghuysen ran for a 13th term, it was going to be a tough race for the GOP. Trump carried the district by just 1 point and the Democratic front-runner had nearly half a million dollars in cash on hand last fall.

Mikie Sherrill, a retired Navy helicopter pilot and former federal prosecutor, had $496,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30 and has the support of EMILY’s List. Frelinghuysen, who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, had over $1 million in his campaign account at the end of the year.

Republicans have a little more than two months to find a candidate who can compete with Sherrill’s early fundraising. It’s possible that the GOP could benefit from a fresh face who doesn’t have the baggage of a long-time member of Congress. But a national wave could overwhelm an upstart contender.

We’re changing our rating of the race from Likely Republican to Toss-Up as the new, open-seat contest develops.

Here are a few things to know about the race in New Jersey’s 11th District:

Filing deadline: April 2

Primary: June 5

Geography: North Central — eastern Morris County, Wayne, according to CQ’s Politics in America.

Demographics: 54 percent with bachelor’s degree or higher (national average: 31 percent), 73 percent non-Hispanic white (national average: 61 percent), median age: 43 (national average: 38)

Recent presidential results: Trump over Hillary Clinton 49 percent to 48 percent in 2016, Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama 52 percent to 47 percent in 2012, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.

Other recent election results: Democrat Phil Murphy over Republican Kim Guadagno 49.2 percent to 48.5 percent in the 2017 gubernatorial election, according to calculations by Decision Desk HQ. (Murphy won by 14 points statewide).

Democratic field: Retired Navy helicopter pilot and former federal prosecutor Mike Sherrill, who had $496,000 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, has received the most attention and is regarded as the front-runner for the nomination. Businesswoman Tamara Harris ($448,000) and others are also running. Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett ($247,000) suspended his campaign in December.

Potential Republican field: Rosemary Becchi (tax lawyer and former Senate Finance Committee staffer), state Assemblyman Jay Webber, state Assemblyman Tony Bucco Jr., and state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, per Roll Call’s Simone Pathé.

Outgoing incumbent: First elected in 1994; chairman of the Appropriations Committee, served in Vietnam. Frelinghuysen family was represented in the Continental Congress and the congressman’s father, Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, served in the House for over 20 years.

Watch: 3 Congressional Campaign Stories You Might Have Missed This Week

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