For the women hoping to challenge in-
cumbents like Frelinghuysen and Lance,
showing up is only half the battle.
“In any given election year, the odds of
knocking off an incumbent are really slim,”
says political analyst Brigid Callahan Harrison, a professor of political science and
law at Montclair State University.
That certainly proved true in the state
legislative races this past November
when, with all 120 seats up for grabs,
only two challengers—neither of them
women—knocked off incumbents. In the
state’s 2nd District, Republican Chris
Brown beat out Senator Colin Bell, a
Democrat who had gained the seat after
the death of Jim Whelan in August; and
former Monmouth County Democratic
chair Vin Gopal unseated Senator Jennifer Beck in the 11th District.
Frelinghuysen and Lance enjoy the
benefits of name recognition and loaded
campaign war chests. Unlike their potential challengers, they’ll hardly need to tap
their funds until after the June prima-ries, Harrison notes.
And each of these incumbents sits in
a district considered by many political
experts to be safe for Republicans, based
upon demographics and voting histories.
When a challenger wins, Harrison
adds, as when Josh Gottheimer defeated
women to the House of Representa-
tives. The most recent, Bonnie Watson
Coleman, a Democrat, has served New
Jersey’s 12th District since 2015.
Women have had better success in the
state Legislature. Last term, they comprised nearly a third of its members in
Trenton, including Sheila Oliver, the first
African-American woman to serve as Assembly speaker; Senate majority leader
Loretta Weinberg; and assistant majority
leader Teresa Ruiz. (Oliver was recently
elected lieutenant governor.)
That growth is trickling down to the
local level—including big city mayors like
Perth Amboy’s Wilda Diaz and Camden’s
Dana Redd (whose eight-year tenure was
to end December 31), though women still
hold fewer than 15 percent of the state’s
“Women are energized,” says CAWP
director Debbie Walsh, noting the record
number of women attending the center’s
Ready to Run training in 2017. These
women, she says, are compelled to be
more engaged in the political system.
“Women are showing up because
they feel that they can’t not be there,”
says Walsh. “They’re doing this for their
families, for their communities, for their
kids. It’s that level of drive and sense of
trict in 2016, there are likely three possible
factors at play: money, scandal or other
damage to the incumbent, and some shift
in district demographics or views away
from an incumbent’s prior positions.
None of this is news to the women running in the 7th and 11th districts. They’re
counting on growing unrest and activism,
fueled by each incumbent’s alignment
with an unpopular Trump agenda, to
bring about an upset like those seen in
other seismic election cycles.
“Sometimes you have a sweeping tide
of new faces,” Harrison says. “We saw
that in the Watergate class, when people
were so sick of Nixon and scandal. And
we saw that in 1994, with the Republican
revolution led by Newt Gingrich.”
In North Jersey’s 11th District, Sherrill
is taking on arguably the state’s most
entrenched and powerful Republican in
Frelinghuysen, whose appropriations
title brings with it the ability to raise big
dollars for himself and for his party.
Frelinghuysen has represented the
district since January 1995. Sherrill says
that’s now a strike against him.
Long considered a stronghold for Republicans, the district is moving left, she
says, pointing out that Trump won there
by only a slim margin—while Frelinghuysen, she says, has been moving farther
to the right, as indicated by his yes vote
in May to repeal and replace parts of the
Affordable Care Act.
“He’s become so focused on his own
power in D.C. that he’s lost sight of the
people he’s serving, the constituents,”
Sherrill says. Still, in November, Frelinghuysen—as well as Lance—voted against
the House version of the tax reform bill.
(Frelinghuysen did not return phone
calls or e-mails for comment.)
One complication for Sherrill: She
does not live in the part of Montclair that
is in the 11th District. To remedy that, she
plans to move within the town before primary day. Frelinghuysen has represented
a section of overwhelmingly Democratic
Montclair only since New Jersey’s district map was redrawn in 2011.
In the 7th District, which includes
Hunterdon County and parts of Essex,
Somerset, Morris, Union and Warren
counties, Weber and Mandelblatt will
face a crowded Democratic primary field
OFF AND RUNNING Linda Weber, of Berkeley Heights, left, and Lisa Mandelblatt, of Westfield, are among the
Democrats vying for a run against GOP incumbent Leonard Lance in the 7th Congressional District.