Democrats target GOP seats in N.J. amid outrage over tax plan

Josh Welle and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. (Photos: Michael Walsh/Yahoo News, Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

Top Story

New Jersey, with 12 seats in the House of Representatives, is strategically important for Democrats and one of their major targets in this year’s midterms. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) says it’s aiming to win all five of the seats currently held by Republicans.

President Trump is deeply unpopular in the Garden State. According to a Stockton University poll, 51 percent of residents think Trump’s job performance is “poor,” whereas only 29 percent think it is “excellent” or “good.”

But the GOP tax plan that Trump signed in December 2017 is particularly bad for New Jersey and could be the single biggest factor pushing more fiscally conservative and moderate voters toward the Democratic Party.

President Trump shows off the tax bill after signing it in the Oval Office on Dec. 22. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

New Jersey, New York, California and other high-income, high-tax, liberal states will be hit hard by the $10,000 cap on the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes (SALT). Legislatures in these states are already drafting workarounds, involving redefining some taxes as charitable contributions. The IRS is said to be working on regulations that would block these efforts.

“New Jersey families are disgusted with a Republican agenda that hurts the Garden State and ready for change,” DCCC spokesman Evan Lukaske told Yahoo News. “New Jersey will play a significant role in our effort to take back the House.”

New Jersey appears to provide some of the best chances for Democrats to take seats from the Republicans. The Cook Political Report rates the five currently Republican-held seats as follows:

  • District 2 (southernmost, includes Cape May and Atlantic City): Likely Democratic
  • District 3 (south-central, includes Burlington County): Tossup
  • District 4 (central, includes Monmouth County): Solid Republican
  • District 7 (northwest, includes Hunterdon County): Tossup
  • District 11 (north, includes Morris County): Leans Democratic

Only one of the five Republican House seats is considered solidly Republican. Chris Smith has represented the Fourth District in Congress since 1981. Yahoo News asked the Democratic challenger, Navy veteran Josh Welle, if he worries that the district might not ever vote for the Democrat.

“I don’t because there are so many unaffiliated voters,” he replied. “There’s about 130,000 Democrats, 140,000 Republicans and 230,000 unaffiliated voters. There are more veterans in Central Jersey than in any other district in New Jersey, in Ocean and Monmouth County.”

Meanwhile, all of the currently Democratic seats are considered solidly Democratic with the exception of District 5 (northernmost, includes Alpine) which is still likely Democratic. Experts are anticipating a blue wave of sorts in New Jersey, but the tea leaves could be wrong.

Josh Welle on the campaign trail. (Photo: welleforcongress.com)

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is confident that New Jerseyans, appreciative of the robust economy under GOP leadership, will back their candidates in the midterms.

“We’re going to defy history in 2018. The economy is booming and Republicans across New Jersey are running on a strong record of cutting taxes for middle-class families, fighting the opioid epidemic, and securing our borders,” NRCC regional press secretary Chris Martin told Yahoo News.

Fighting against the Republican tax-plan is at the center of the Democrats’ strategy in New Jersey.

“The tax plan is bad for New Jersey. It’s bad for blue states. It’s bad for any district in America that had the state and local tax deduction,” Welle said. “For people with a fixed income, for people struggling to get ahead, they desperately need to repeal that and get it back for the residents of New Jersey.”

Scott Maraldo, a spokesman for Smith’s reelection campaign, said Smith fought against the elimination of SALT and then voted against the bill because it was not fair to NJ taxpayers. He said that Welle wants to raise taxes on the top five percent of all N.J. taxpayers is a real problem.

“NJ cannot afford the Welle tax-hike and they will reject it at the polls,” he said.

New Jersey and other Democratic states with high local taxes argue that the Republican Congress singled them out for disproportionate punishment for political purposes. According to CRA Financial, the state and local tax cap is expected to pay for roughly $1.3 trillion of the tax cuts.

The state is suing the Trump administration for its cap on state and local tax deductions, arguing that they amount to unconstitutional double taxation and have no historical basis. Announcing the lawsuit, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy called the deduction cap “nothing more than a tax hike on our working and middle-class families and seniors.”

Phil Murphy, then New Jersey’s governor-elect, talks to reporters in December 2017. (Photo: Mel Evans/AP)

An analysis of the lawsuit by the North Jersey Record paints a different picture, saying that if the state wins its suit to overturn the cap on state and local deductions, “60 percent of the tax benefits — almost $1.9 billion — would go to the richest 1.5 percent of state residents, those who make more than $500,000.”

Martin, of NRCC, defended the GOP tax plan and criticized Democratic candidates like Andy Kim (Third District) and Mikie Sherrill (11th District) for “closely aligning themselves with Gov. Murphy’s tax-and-spend agenda.”

“The GOP’s tax cuts are delivering relief to middle-class families for the first time in more than 30 years,” Martin said.

Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray said that if the “blue wave” does come it will definitely wash over New Jersey because these districts are demographically and politically “in the middle of the flood zone.” When a wave hits, he said, usually any races that are considering a coin-flip will fall in the same direction.

“Whether it does happen or not, right now the indications are that Democrats will pick up a significant number of seats. How big the wave will be is yet to be determined,” Murray said. “We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen yet. If the election were today, it would be hard to predict.”

 

Verbatim

 

Best of the Rest

Arizona senate race will pit ex-fighter pilot vs. ex-social worker

In the Arizona race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, Tuesday’s primary set up a contest between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally.

Both women have interesting backgrounds, but only one of them is talking about it.

McSally, 52, is more than eager to tout her biography: A retired U.S. Air Force colonel who spent 22 years in active service, she was the first woman to fly combat missions for the American military and eventually commanded a fighter squadron. She was elected to Congress in 2014 after an unsuccessful run in 2012.

McSally won the primary with 52 percent of the vote over two other Republicans —  state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — who both tapped into the reactionary populism roiling much of the modern right.

U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally, R-Ariz., celebrates her primary election victory Tuesday. (Photo: Matt York/AP)

The memory of the late Sen. John McCain, who was also famous as a fighter pilot, may work to McSally’s benefit in the campaign.

The 42-year old Sinema, meanwhile, did not have a competitive primary and has thus far kept a much lower profile. Her own story would be an interesting one to tell, but she has so far decided, apparently, that there is a downside to getting into the details. She was a social worker for several years and then a criminal defense attorney, as well as an antiwar activist who worked for Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign for president in 2000.

She published screeds against capitalism during that time and got elected to the state Legislature in 2004. But by the time Sinema was elected to a swing congressional district in 2012, she had evolved into a moderate Democrat who was more interested in working with Republicans to get things done.

And since Donald Trump became president, she has subtly aligned herself with some of his positions, voting for money for a border wall, voting against the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and for harsher penalties for deported immigrants with felonies who return to the U.S. This is all jarring for some on the left who remember her work on behalf of immigrants and refugees as a defense attorney, but it makes her a more formidable opponent for McSally in a conservative state where Trump’s popularity is at 48 percent compared with 44 percent nationally.

““What I’ve learned to do is use the tools and skills that I’ve learned to be productive and get stuff done,” she told the Wall Street Journal in March.

McSally intends to bring up Sinema’s history every chance she gets, she said in a recent interview with NBC News, calling Sinema “a career politician who’s had an extreme makeover.”

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., middle, talks to volunteers on Tuesday, primary election day, in Phoenix. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP)

McSally brought up Sinema’s work on Nader’s campaign, her calls to shut down an Air Force base in the state and her antiwar protests. And even before the primary was over, McSally released a TV ad last week that mocked Sinema for protesting the war in Iraq while wearing a pink tutu.

Sinema has largely avoided the press so far, and questions about the ways her political views have shifted. That will become much harder to do now that the race is down to her and McSally, even if the local media in Arizona is a shadow of its former self.

Sinema, however, has been a skilled fundraiser, and as of the last finance reports a few weeks ago, had raised $10.5 million to McSally’s $7.6 million. But although she had no strong opponent in the primary she had only $2.4 million left — which was still more than the $1.9 million McSally had on hand.

 

Federal court rules North Carolina’s gerrymandered map unconstitutional, again

A federal court in North Carolina ruled Monday that the state’s congressional district map has been heavily gerrymandered to favor Republican candidates and is therefore unconstitutional. The panel of three judges unanimously decided that the current House map violates the First and 14th Amendments by giving Republicans greater influence in choosing representatives.

A federal court declared that North Carolina’s congressional map unfairly favors Republican voters’ preferences. (Map via ncleg.net)

Republicans currently occupy 10 of North Carolina’s 13 seats in the House, and a redrawn map could result in more Democratic representatives because the state’s voters are more evenly split than the current delegation would suggest. This ruling raises the possibility of the districts being redrawn before November’s election and could affect control of the House.

The judges reached the same conclusion in January, but the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in June — sending it back to the lower court for reconsideration.

 

Lost in space: Alien abductee loses House bid in Florida

Earlier this month a Florida congressional primary took an unexpected and extraterrestrial turn when the Miami Herald endorsed a candidate whose biography included claims she was abducted by aliens as a child. The newspaper admitted that Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, a former Doral councilwoman, was an “unusual candidate” but recommended her for the GOP primary for Florida’s 27th Congressional District. Rodriguez Aguilera said her claimed abduction at age 7 was a nonissue that didn’t define her, and the paper agreed, although the candidate said she is still occasionally in touch with the aliens — who Rodriguez Aguilera said resemble the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil — telepathically. She now runs a business where she trains women in other countries on how to run for office.

Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera (Photo: Roberto Koltun/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)

Rodriguez Aguilera fell short on Tuesday night, finishing sixth in a crowded field. The winner, with 40.5 percent, was Maria Salazar, a Cuban-American television journalist and host, who now moves on to the general election against Democratic candidate Donna Shalala, the former Health and Human Services secretary and president of the University of Miami. The race is to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a heavily Hispanic South Florida district that Hillary Clinton won by 20 points in 2016. It seems like a precarious position for Salazar, but she is confident.

“I don’t think it’s going to be hard [to win in November]. Ileana won by 10 points and she’s very much loved,” Salazar said at her victory party, which Ros-Lehtinen attended. “It’s going to be a seamless transition between Ileana and myself.”

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as Lean Democratic. Larry Sabato’s University of Virginia Crystal Ball does the same.

 

Gillum wins Florida Democratic primary

Andrew Gillum pulled off an upset victory Tuesday night in Florida’s Democratic primary in a bid to become the state’s first African-American governor.

Andrew Gillum, holding son Davis, celebrates Tuesday night in Tallahassee. (Photo: Colin Hackley/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Wire)

Gillum, the progressive mayor of Tallahassee who had been endorsed in the race by Sen. Bernie Sanders, narrowly defeated former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, the Associated Press reported. Polls showed him surging late in the race, and his victory shocked most political observers in Florida, who assumed it was Graham’s to lose. In part, that was because Graham is the daughter of Bob Graham, a former Florida governor and U.S. senator.

 

Verbatim

Up next

September 4: Massachusetts primaries
September 6: Delaware primaries


_____

With contributions from Jon Ward, Christopher Wilson and David Knowles.

_____

Read more from Yahoo News: