Rep. Garrett concedes to Democratic challenger Josh Gottheimer
Though he did not mention or congratulate opponent Josh Gottheimer, Rep. Scott Garrett conceded defeat Wednesday in a statement that voiced pride in the campaign he ran while noting the results “were not what I had hoped for.”
Gottheimer, a Democrat and former White House speech writer from Wyckoff making his first bid for office, was declared the winner by The Associated Press early Wednesday. Unofficial tallies showed he led by more than 10,000 votes with 100 percent of precincts counted, but Garrett said in a statement about 1 a.m. that there were 20,000 mail-in ballots that needed to be counted. His concession did not indicate what changed.
“While the results of this election were not what I had hoped for, I am proud of the race we ran — we stayed the course and kept the faith,” said Garrett, a Republican from Wantage who was seeking his eighth term representing the 5th District, which is dominated by Bergen County and includes parts of Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties.
“We are charged to pray for our nation’s leaders, and we are doing that now,” Garrett said.
Gottheimer will be the first Democrat in more than 30 years to represent much of the district,and his win gives his party a 7-5 majority in the House delegation from New Jersey. All other incumbents in New Jersey were re-elected.
Gottheimer’s campaign said that he beat Garrett in Bergen County, where more than 70 percent of the district’s voters live, by more than 32,000 votes. The rest of the district, covering parts of Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties, went for Garrett, and the unofficial tally with 100 percent of precincts counted showed Gottheimer with 51 percent to Garrett’s 47 percent.
Mirroring the presidential race, the campaign featured bitter allegations including bigotry, bribery, forgery and assault, and it shattered records for expenditures, with Gottheimer and Garrett each spending at least $4 million while outside groups and super PACs added $6 million on Gottheimer’s side. Most of that went for negative television ads that blanketed the airwaves in recent weeks.
Gottheimer, 41, of Wyckoff pitched himself as a fiscal conservative who is socially liberal, promising not to raise taxes while also pledging to fight for LGBT and abortion rights. He said tax reform could bring back overseas corporate profits that would then fund increased transportation spending and spark job growth, and said Garrett forced local residents to pay higher taxes by not fighting for federal grants.
Garrett, 57, of Wantage touted his record of battling to shrink government and uphold the Constitution, and warned that Gottheimer was another big-spending Democrat who would ultimately force higher taxes.
But issues became a sideshow as the campaign got personal quickly and grew increasingly nasty.
One consistently positive ad showing Gottheimer with his family was produced as part of a $1.9 million effort of the National Association of Realtors’ super PAC, which was angered that Garrett had pushed to restrict the government’s backing of mortgages.
Most other advertising was negative. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority PAC each spent heavily to portray Garrett as a bigot for reportedly telling colleagues last year he would not contribute to or raise money for a Republican campaign fund because it had supported gay candidates in the past.
Garrett also came under fire over what critics said was inadequate support for legislation to provide health care for 9/11 first responders and disaster aid for Superstorm Sandy. And a published report said Garrett spoke at a breakfast in October promoted by a leader of a group classified as a potential domestic terrorism threat. That forced Garrett to say he did not know details about that supporter’s background.
But Garrett fought back with his own ads. The chairman of a subcommittee that regulates Wall Street, he’d been adept over the years in raising money from financial services companies and entered the campaign with $2 million in his account, and raised another $2 million.
Gottheimer was cast as a Hillary Clinton crony because he worked as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. Garrett also seized on a 2007 civil lawsuit that accused Gottheimer of assault, even though the plaintiff, a neighbor, said Gottheimer had never touched her. Garrett also said Gottheimer bought the woman’s silence with a settlement, while lawyers involved in the case said there was no settlement.
Gottheimer’s $4.3 million fund-raising haul broke the record for a House candidate from New Jersey, and he responded by highlighting an ethics group’s complaint that Garrett was one of 11 members of Congress who got campaign contributions from companies that make payday loans around the time they took actions to benefit the industry. The complaint appeared to go nowhere, but Gott¬heimer’s ad said Garrett was under investigation.
As the campaign’s final weekend approached, Garrett had a lawyer write to television stations asking that the ad about the investigation be taken off the air, while Gottheimer’s lawyers threatened to sue over the assault accusation.
Garrett started his political career in 1990 as the state assemblyman in a largely rural district in Sussex and Warren counties while working as an attorney representing insurance companies. He built a reputation in Trenton as a staunch social and fiscal conservative, regularly opposing measures that large majorities from both par¬ties supported. At one point, he angered Assembly leaders so much by the way he changed a bill that he was removed as a committee chairman.
He continued the pattern after winning his first term in Congress in 2003, using one of his first votes to oppose an expansion of unemployment benefits sought by President George H.W. Bush and Republican House leaders.
Described by a former aide as a member of the Tea Party before there was one, Garrett argued Congress needed to cut taxes and shrink government to the point that Washington’s role more closely followed the limited powers enumerated in the Constitution. As a result, he often voted against majorities in both parties by opposing things he thought involved the federal government where it did not belong.
A North Caldwell native, Gottheimer became a speechwriter for Clinton after getting a degree at Oxford University. Afterward, he got a law degree, worked as an executive at Ford Motor Co. and the public relations firm Burson-Mar-stel¬lar, and then became senior counselor to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He was a corporate strategist at Microsoft before he quit last year to focus on the campaign, his first bid for office.
Boundary lines have changed over the decades, but most of the district has not been represented by a Democrat in Congress in more than 30 years. The last Democrat to represent much of the Sussex and Warren county part of the district was Helen S. Meyner, wife of a former governor, who was elected to the first of two terms representing what was then the 13th District in 1974.
Democrat Andy Maguire represented what was then the 7th District, which included many of the western Bergen County towns in the district, from 1975-81. And in 1983-84, the 9th District covered eastern Bergen County up to the New York border and was represented by Democrat Robert Torricelli.