New Jersey House: Pascrell Returns, Payne Jr. Continues Father’s Legacy

Jessica Taylor June 6, 2012 · 11:57 AM EDT

The biggest surprise in the Steve Rothman vs. Bill Pascrell grudge match wasn’t the victor, but the margin.

Despite having a slight territorial disadvantage, Pascrell racked up a huge 90 percent edge in his home base of Passaic County to cruise past his Democratic colleague by more than 20 points districtwide, winning 61 percent to 39 percent.

The crushing margin wasn’t one either Democrat’s supporters expected. The former friends had excoriated each other in the race’s closing days. Rothman even waded into the expensive New York City media market to make the case that Pascrell wasn’t liberal enough, attacking his environmental record.

Pascrell argued throughout the campaign that the district was rightfully his, painting Rothman as a carpetbagger who cowered from a fight with Republican Scott Garrett after the state’s independent redistricting commission drew them into the same district. Rothman’s rationale was that he represented more of the new 9th District anyway (about 54 percent), and as the former Englewood mayor, he moved back to his home turf and believed his Bergen County base would make him victorious.

Turnout didn’t prove that gamble right, though -- Rothman only won 73 percent in Bergen, nowhere near what he needed to cut into Pascrell’s commanding lead in Passaic, which ended up making up half of the primary vote. Strategists had assumed Passaic would make up only about a third of the vote yesterday.

Pascrell’s victory follows a similar narrative of other incumbent-incumbent victors so far this cycle -- rack up huge margins on your home turf, plus an endorsement from Bill Clinton certainly doesn’t hurt. The former president headlined a rally for Pascrell last Friday, and Clinton is now 2-0 when he’s picked sides in member vs. member races, backing Mark Critz over Jason Altmire in last month’s Pennsylvania primary, even when Critz, like Pascrell, represented less of the redrawn district.

Pascrell will now face Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in the general, but the race won’t be competitive.

In the other competitive Garden State primary, Newark City Council President Donald Payne Jr. won both a special election primary and the regular Democratic primary to succeed his late father, Donald Payne Sr., who passed away in March after a battle with colon cancer.

The younger Payne survived a challenge from state Sen. Nia Gill and fellow councilman Ron Rice. Payne took 60 percent of the vote in the regular primary, compared to 19 percent for Rice and 17 percent for Gill, and racked up huge margins in both Essex, the most populous county, and Union, while Gill took about half the vote in Hudson. In the special election, he won with over 71 percent, beating Rice (25 percent) and Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith (5 percent)