Jay Webber shouldn’t just be losing, he should be losing badly. But against the odds, and against the current of national politics, the New Jersey Republican is hanging on in the kind of race that Democrats have to win in order to retake the House.
A state assemblyman and Harvard-educated lawyer, Webber is running to fill the seat of retiring Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. The race in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District is a ready-made microcosm of all the national factors that favor Democrats over Republicans.
Less than 20 miles from New York City, the district is suburban and populated by the kind of highly educated, high-household-income voters prone to sour on President Trump (think soccer moms driving new Honda Odysseys). Hillary Clinton lost this district by a single point. After two years of gauche presidential gesticulations, everything points to this district being a prime pickup opportunity.
Frelinghuysen held the seat for decades winning each subsequent election by no less than 19 points. But all signs point to the pendulum swinging in the other direction. Consider how Republicans stacked the deck against themselves.
The biggest of achievement of outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has become the biggest detriment to New Jersey Republicans. They passed tax reform. They capped the state and local tax deduction at $10,000, in the process, gutting the provision which long made possible the high-end American dream of these wealthy, overly educated suburbanites.
Those demographics and those factors have the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee salivating and strategizing. They picked an ace of a candidate in Mikie Sherrill, a Navy-helicopter-pilot-turned-federal-prosecutor. She is young, sharp, and the poster child of the DCCC’s red-to-blue program. At least on paper, it looks like she can win big.
The contours of the race combined with the biography of the candidate have made the race a boondoggle. Democrats are spending money hand over fist. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, outside groups have poured $796,939 into the race in support of Sherrill and another half-million attacking Webber.
No slouch herself, Sherrill has been fundraising like a fiend. She has raised a staggering $4,200,452 and spent another $1,283,883. Her opponent is a pauper in comparison. Webber hasn’t even cracked a million, bringing in just $574,410 before spending almost all of it immediately.
Conventional political wisdom says she wins. And all the prognosticators from the Cooke Political Report to FiveThirtyEight say the race leans Democrat. Except for in New Jersey, so far, the conventional political wisdom hasn’t been validated. The race remains within the margin of error. Consider two Monmouth University Polls.
The first, from June, shows Sherrill leading 40 to 38 percent. The second, from October, shows her leading 48 to 44 percent. Despite the money and despite the attention, the needle hasn’t moved much. A two-point lead from June has grown to a four-point lead in October just weeks ahead of Election Day.
Titans have taken notice. Former Vice President Joe Biden has endorsed Sherrill, while Trump surprised everyone — including the candidate — by endorsing Webber. On Wednesday, Ryan will travel to New Jersey to follow up and give Webber the nod.
On those endorsements and a prayer, the Republican hangs on. If he wins — and that is possible — Webber will be one of the greatest comeback stories of 2020. What’s more, a victory would show that the wealthy, the educated, the white soccer moms complain one way in public but vote another way in the privacy of the voting booth.