Pro-Trump House candidate loses party support in open seat

July 15, 2018

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — National Republicans are abandoning a pro-President Donald Trump House candidate over racial social media posts in a New Jersey district Trump won in 2016, leaving already optimistic Democrats hopeful they’ll pick up the open seat.

The National Republican Congressional Committee said it was dropping support for Seth Grossman in the state’s 2nd District days ago after a Facebook post Grossman shared in 2014 surfaced. The development comes in what analysts say is one of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities in the sprawling district, which includes Atlantic City and stretches from the coast to the Delaware River in the west.

It’s an open seat because GOP incumbent Frank LoBiondo is retiring, and Democrats have a top-tier candidate in state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who has represented part of the district for 16 years in the Legislature. Van Drew has cultivated a reputation as one of the party’s most conservative members.

The GOP committee’s booting of Grossman made national headlines, but analysts said the change is unlikely to fundamentally alter a race that looks as if it’s Van Drew’s to lose. Democrats can win control of the House from the GOP in November if they net 24 seats. They’ve tagged this race as a pickup opportunity.

Republicans have “a ton of seats” they need to defend in the 435-seat House, said David Wasserman, House editor for the Cook Political Report.

“They need to be selective,” Wasserman said. “This one is not worth saving.”

If it seems surprising that a Democrat is in a strong position to win a district that Trump carried and Republicans represented for more than two decades, consider the president’s overall low approval in New Jersey and the loss of GOP-held seats in state government under Republican Gov. Chris Christie, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“The story here is how Christie decimated the party logistically and Trump took it over ideologically,” Murray said.

Christie, who served two terms, left the governor’s office in January and was replaced by Democrat Phil Murphy, who had defeated Christie’s lieutenant governor. Christie said that election was not about him.

New Jersey Democrats won their biggest majority in the Assembly since 1979 after the 2015 elections, and the party has increased its voter rolls in the district by about 6 percent since 2016, when Trump won there. Republicans, on the other hand, have seen their numbers rise by 4 percent, with Democrats holding an overall advantage of 151,000 voters to Republicans’ 134,000.

The post that led to the campaign committee rejecting Grossman included commentary that disparaged black people, specifically questioning impulse control and communication ability. Grossman, who’s white, said those comments were far down in the post, which he said he shared because it had been shared by former GOP congressman Allen West, who’s black. Grossman, an attorney and former Atlantic County officeholder who has embraced Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda, denied being racist and said the committee used the development as an excuse to drop him because it doesn’t like him or Trump.

“I’m disappointed that the Republican leadership is guided by the lies of Democrats rather than contact me,” he said.

It’s not the first time Grossman’s words have gotten him negative attention. A video from the primary campaign showing him calling diversity “crap” surfaced in a Philly.com report last month. The two-minute clip showed Grossman saying diversity has become an “excuse by Democrats, communists and socialists, basically,” to argue that people are not created equal.

Van Drew leads Grossman in fundraising and among political forecasters, who say they expect he’ll win the election Nov. 6.

The GOP campaign committee has said it hopes to find a new candidate.

Update hourly