Ratings Change: New Jersey Open Seat Shifts to Toss-up

January 29, 2018 · 1:31 PM EST

GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s retirement makes his 11th District of New Jersey even more vulnerable for Republicans  

While the congressman had some of his own baggage—an employee at a local bank landed in hot water with her employer when the congressman alerted the CEO that she was a Democratic activist—and it was unclear whether he was ready for a difficult re-election fight, his family has been a staple of New Jersey politics for generations and Frelinghuysen outperformed Donald Trump in 2016.

Even if Frelinghuysen ran for a 13th term, it was going to be a tough race for the GOP. Trump carried the district by just 1 point, and the Democratic frontrunner had nearly half a million dollars cash on hand last fall.   

Mikie Sherrill, a retired Navy helicopter pilot and former federal prosecutor, had $496,000 cash on hand on Sept. 30, and has support from EMILY’s List. Frelinghuysen, who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, had over $1 million in his campaign account at the end of the year.

Republicans have a little more than two months to find a candidate who can compete with Sherrill’s early fundraising. It’s possible that Republicans could benefit from a fresh face who doesn’t have the baggage of a long-time Member of Congress. But a national wave could overwhelm an upstart GOP contender. 

We’re changing our rating of the race from Likely Republican to Toss-Up as the new, open seat race develops. 

Here are a few things to know about the race in New Jersey’s 11th District. 

Filing Deadline: April 2
Primary: June 5
Geography: North Central - eastern Morris County, Wayne, according to CQ’s Politics in America.
Demographics: 54 percent bachelor’s degree or higher (national average: 31 percent), 73 percent non-Hispanic white (national average: 61 percent), median age 43 (national average: 38)
Recent Presidential Results: Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton 49%-48% in 2016, Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama 52%-47% in 2012, according to Daily Kos Elections. 
Other recent election results: Phil Murphy over Kim Guadagno 49.2%-48.5% 2017 gubernatorial election (Murphy won by 14 points statewide).    
Democratic Field: Retired Navy helicopter pilot/former federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill, who had $496,000 cash on hand, has received the most attention and is regarded as the frontrunner for the nomination. Businesswoman Tamara Harris ($448,000) and others are also running. Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett ($247,000) suspended his campaign in December.
Potential Republican Field: Rosemary Becchi (tax attorney and former Senate Finance Committee staffer), Assemblyman Jay Webber, Assemblyman Tony Bucco, Jr., and state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio per Roll Call’s Simone Pathé
The Outgoing Incumbent: First elected in 1994; chairman of the Appropriations Committee, served in Vietnam. Frelinghuysen family was represented in the Continental Congress and the congressman’s father, Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, served in the House for over 20 years.