NJ-11: Rebounding

By Jim Ellis

Navy veteran and attorney, Mikie Sherrill

Navy veteran and attorney, Mikie Sherrill

Sep. 3, 2018 — A new poll suggests that conventional wisdom about how a northern New Jersey district will vote next month might be inaccurate.

For quite some time, the common belief has been that retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s (D-Morristown) seat will convert to the Democrats in the person of attorney and Naval Academy graduate Mikie Sherrill.

An internal National Strategy poll for the Jay Webber (R) campaign (Sept. 24-27; 400 likely New Jersey voters), however, now finds the GOP nominee drawing much closer to Sherrill, to the point where he is within the polling margin of error. According to National, the ballot test finds Sherrill leading, 46-43 percent.

Published polls here have been few and far between. Right after the primary, the money count so favored Sherrill that the prognosticators began making a Democratic victory in this open Republican district a foregone conclusion.

Sherrill had already raised over $4.2 million before the end of June and held just under $3 million in the bank. This compared to Webber having less than $200,000 cash-on-hand. His fundraising was slow to gain momentum, and he had to spend in order to win the party nomination in the June 5 primary, hence his low post-primary financial total. The dollar count led to the principle idea that Sherrill was becoming a lock. Since that time, Webber’s fundraising has moved well into seven digits.

This new National Strategy poll suggests that Webber has room to grow. President Trump’s approval rating has improved to 49 percent, and the data projects his positive number among undecided voters is actually 59 percent. Obviously, these figures are substantially better than earlier in the year, especially in a state where Trump only garnered 41 percent of the vote. Though he lost the 11th District, the president’s percentage in this particular CD was much greater. Hillary Clinton carried NJ-11, but with only a scant 49-48 percent margin.

Rep. Frelinghuysen has held his seat since 1994, but the district has been in Republican hands since the 1984 election. During his time in Congress, Frelinghuysen averaged 65.3 percent of the vote, including a 58 percent victory in 2016.

So far, the Republican party spending apparatus and outside leadership and conservative organizations have failed to involve themselves in this campaign, an odd occurrence since the seat has performed well for the GOP over the last three decades. Polling data such as the National Strategy survey will certainly cause them to reassess their position regarding this campaign, as enough time remains for them to come into this race in targeted fashion.

The 11th District sits in the northern part of New Jersey just a few miles due west of New York City. Morristown and the Parsippany Hills-Troy areas are the largest population centers. The district is comprised of parts of Essex, Morris, Passaic, and Sussex Counties.

The rating for this open seat has trended toward “Lean Democratic,” but a poll such as this, if confirmed in further research data, could result in significant movement. It is clear the Webber campaign has momentum, which is not particularly surprising considering the district’s voting history, the but support from the independent party and conservative organization committees needs to be forthcoming in order to overcome Sherrill’s strong operation and major early advantage.

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