BY GINA G. SCALA
The outcome of Tuesday’s tightly contested Democratic Primary may reveal more than just a winner. It could tell whether New Jersey voters agreed more with President Obama or former president Bill Clinton.
The two are backing opposing sides in the nomination for the Ninth District. Democrats Rep. Steve Rothman and Rep. Bill Pascrell have both served eight terms in the House of Representatives.
Obama met with Rothman on Friday at the White House, reports The Hill. On the same day, Clinton appeared at a rally in Paterson with Pascrell, whom he has endorsed. Pascrell, 75, endorsed former first lady Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary.
In addition to New Jersey, the former president is supporting several Democrats this year who are running in primaries against opponents who supported Obama, the Bergen Record reported.
Rothman, 59, was the only Garden State Democrat legislator to endorse Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, according to the Washington Post. “I think it’s fair to say that he was not unmindful that appearing with me as we walked along the White House colonnade in full view of the entire White House press corps might very well make it into the New Jersey newspapers,” Rothman said after his White House meeting, the Post reported.
The contest began with a congressional redistricting plan moved Fair Lawn into the 5th Distinct. Rothman, who had been living in Fair Lawn, moved back to Englewood, the town where he was born and served two terms as mayor. He’s arguing the 9th is the district he’s represented for 16 years.
Longtime Democratic watchers urge that the New Jersey divide is natural in light of old rivalries, but it is more about loyalty rather than animosity.
“Both Clinton and Obama have been helping candidates who supported them in the past,” Joe Trippi told the Washington Post. “Occasionally it has put them on opposite sides of some tough primaries, but it’s about loyalty to past supporters, not a rift between them.”
Still, President Clinton’s endorsement of Pascrell ahead of Tuesday’s primary comes at a time when the former president seems to be “off the reservation” with regard to the Obama campaign’s message on Mitt Romney’s career as a private equity executive, the Post reported.
The Obama campaign has been trying to portray Romney’s business career as one driven, to an exceptional degree, by greed and disregard for the little guy, while Clinton described it as “sterling.”
Whether any of this matters beyond the Garden State remains to be seen.