New Jersey’s Activist-In-Chief Wants To Flip A Swing Seat | EUROtoday

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FLEMINGTON, N.J. — Sue Altman first made nationwide headlines when she was expelled from a New Jersey state Senate listening to by state troopers in November 2019.

The second was captured in a photograph of Altman, then the state director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance ― a state department of the progressive Working Families Party ― being bodily dragged out of the room together with her head held excessive in defiance.

At the time, Altman was the main critic of a state tax incentive program that handsomely benefited George Norcross III, the well-connected insurance coverage government regarded, for many years, as essentially the most highly effective determine in South Jersey politics. The troopers had been tasked with ejecting jeering demonstrators, however Altman was quiet on the time of her elimination, fueling hypothesis she had been singled out for her position as a ringleader.

The second captured Altman’s essence as an irritatingly efficient thorn within the aspect of the Garden State’s famously clubby Democratic institution. Earlier in 2019, she had led an illustration outdoors of Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential marketing campaign fundraiser with Norcross and different New Jersey bosses. And in 2021, Altman picketed outdoors of Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s district workplace over his effort to delay a vote on President Joe Biden’s sweeping local weather and social coverage invoice.

That form of stint as a rabble-rouser will not be precisely the textbook prelude to a congressional run in a Republican-held seat, however Altman will not be one to comply with conventions. Trading in her black-and-orange Working Families Party T-shirt for enterprise apparel, she is now the presumptive Democratic nominee in New Jersey’s purple seventh Congressional District, the place ousting first-term Rep. Tom Kean Jr. is a part of Democrats’ technique for retaking the House.

At stake in her race will not be solely a key seat within the razor-thin battle for management of the House, but additionally an opportunity to show {that a} candidate with roots in progressive politics can win a GOP-held swing seat. Poll watchers are prone to interpret the outcomes by way of the lens of progressives’ electability, even when different components — like, say, Kean being the son of a preferred former governor — take priority.

“If she is profitable, progressives can say to mainstream Democrats, ‘See, this is not the liability that you thought it was.’”

– Micah Rasmussen, Rider University

“If she is successful, progressives can say to mainstream Democrats, ‘See, this is not the liability that you thought it was,’” mentioned Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “Conversely, if she does not prevail, then you will see the mainstream of the party thinking twice before they put up another progressive.”

Speaking to HuffPost forward of the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee’s conference in late February, Altman sounded each bit the mainstream Democrat fuming concerning the GOP’s menace to our dearest values.

“Democracy is at stake at a national level,” she mentioned.

The query was not whether or not she was too ideological, in line with Altman — however whether or not Kean was too beholden to figures like House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who had held a fundraiser for him a number of days earlier.

Kean “is the representative of the national Republican Party, more so than the representative of this district,” Altman mentioned.

Altman even thinks that her work taking over New Jersey’s extra conservative Democratic Party machine can work to her benefit with swing voters.

At the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, she mentioned, “I had fought against corruption in both parties — Republican and Democrat.”

Sue Altman, in her megaphone days, leads a protest outside Rep. Josh Gottheimer's district office in August 2021. Republicans have dubbed her "A-O-Sue."
Sue Altman, in her megaphone days, leads a protest outdoors Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s district workplace in August 2021. Republicans have dubbed her “A-O-Sue.”

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

Shifting To The Center

With the power of somebody perpetually in a rush and the peak of a former faculty basketball participant, Altman has a form of pure, effervescent charisma.

By the time of the sunny weekend afternoon in late February when Altman was on account of deal with the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee’s conference, she was already the presumptive Democratic nominee. The rural county occasion’s endorsement was a mere formality.

But she nonetheless used the time as a possibility to win over any Democrats within the viewers who would possibly nonetheless be skeptical of her bid. Altman, who taught historical past earlier than turning into an organizer, coyly requested the assembled crowd of about 200 Democratic conference delegates to “indulge” a story about Hunterdon County’s position within the Revolutionary War. While George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River — at a website simply South of the district’s boundaries — is a well-known turning level in that battle, the feisty Hunterdon County militia will get credit score for carrying down British troops sufficient to allow that crossing, she recalled.

“To me, it represents the longer-term commitment of the people of Hunterdon County to the cause of democracy. And that’s what we have here today,” she mentioned, eliciting whoops and thunderous applause.

A black-and-white combat between dedicated small “d” democrats on the one hand, and MAGA Republicans within the authoritarian mildew of former President Donald Trump on the opposite, is the terrain on which Altman desires the race to be fought.

“I actually don’t think this moment is really about progressive versus moderate or this faction versus that faction of the Democratic Party,” she informed HuffPost. “I actually see this moment as being about public service, about restoring democracy, fighting corruption.”

With a Trump-Biden rematch on the high of the poll in November, and abortion rights beneath GOP menace in pink states (albeit not in New Jersey), Altman could get her want.

What she doesn’t point out when brushing apart ideological debates is that she has taken pains to distance herself from the activist left’s extra controversial positions.

Unlike many progressive lawmakers, Altman doesn’t assist imposing situations on U.S. support to Israel, whilst she criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and spoke with urgency about the necessity to finish Israel’s occupation of lands conquered in 1967.

“I actually don’t think this moment is really about progressive versus moderate or this faction versus that faction of the Democratic Party.”

– Sue Altman, presumptive Democratic nominee, New Jersey’s seventh Congressional District

“For the most part, I think Biden and [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken have done a very good job, sort of pressuring and coaxing the Israeli government to act better,” she mentioned.

Altman expressed assist for the enforcement-heavy bipartisan border invoice that Biden negotiated with Senate Republicans, earlier than Trump’s disapproval killed it. And she has disavowed the nationwide Working Families Party’s previous assist for the polarizing slogan, “defund the police” — insisting she desires funding for non-police alternate options to psychological well being crises and crime prevention to complement, quite than exchange, conventional regulation enforcement.

The former progressive chief has even tempered her assist for Medicare for All, expressing concern that sharp swings in charge of the federal authorities might end in this system being defunded by Republican leaders.

“I’d like to see a stronger public option. I’d like to see a stronger kind of government intervention and government support of families who are struggling with health care bills,” she mentioned. “But at this point, I’m not all in on Medicare for All in an immediate way. I see that as a long-term goal.”

Some of Altman’s earlier left-wing views — and associations — are going to make it harder for her to shake Republican assaults, nonetheless.

She was the state director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance at a time, in 2020, when the group’s nationwide father or mother, the Working Families Party, had embraced the “defund the police” motion. She additionally lobbied for state pandemic aid support for undocumented immigrants. And in 2021, she applauded a populous New Jersey county ending its contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement company to deal with detained undocumented immigrants in its jail.

“Sue Altman is a megaphone-brandishing radical activist running in a district that looks for pragmatic, results-oriented leaders like Tom Kean, Jr.,” Savannah Viar, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, mentioned in a press release. “New Jersey will reject A-O-Sue’s agenda of defunding the police, sanctuary state policies, and handing away taxpayer benefits to illegals.”

Rep. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-N.J.), the son of a popular former governor, had $2.4 million in cash on hand as of the end of March.
Rep. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-N.J.), the son of a preferred former governor, had $2.4 million in money available as of the tip of March.

Vitalii Nosach/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images

A Redder Shade Of Purple

New Jersey’s seventh has the approximate form of a jagged-edged elephant’s ear, encompassing an enormous chunk of the state’s north central and northwestern areas. It begins off in a slender sliver of closely Democratic and concrete industrial communities throughout from Staten Island, picks up prosperous suburban cities like Summit because it shifts west, after which — because the proverbial elephant’s ear takes its ultimate, extensive crest — swallows the sparsely populated rural communities up and down the Delaware River border with Pennsylvania.

Democrat Tom Malinowski, a former Obama administration State Department official, flipped the seat in 2018.

But Malinowski would find yourself drawing the brief straw within the state’s redistricting course of. The district went from a seat Biden received by 10 share factors to a seat he received by just below 4 factors.

Republicans painted Malinowski as corrupt for buying and selling medical and tech shares in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kean, a state senator for twenty years, would defeat Malinowski by a hair beneath three share factors.

Malinowski’s departure — and resolution to not run once more — prompted a scramble amongst up-and-coming Democrats to succeed him because the occasion’s nominee this yr.

Altman, who grew up in Clinton and in 2021, moved to Lambertville — each cities within the district’s rural western area — and Jason Blazakis, a former State Department counterterrorism official and present knowledgeable on the subject at Middlebury College in Vermont, had been the 2 most severe contenders. Summit city council member Greg Vartan and Roselle Park Mayor Joe Signorello III had been additionally within the working.

Last July, nationwide Democratic decision-makers had been reportedly already involved a couple of potential Altman win. Whatever behind-the-scenes work these insiders did to cease Altman was apparently unsuccessful although. Signorello dropped out in October and Vartan adopted go well with in January.

“There was someone with a more moderate, i.e., male, profile. He didn’t catch on.”

– Former U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.)

To defeat Blazakis, Altman’s fundraising edge proved essential. As of the tip of 2023, Altman had greater than twice as a lot cash available as Blazakis, who had lent himself greater than $70,000. Apparently satisfied there was no path ahead, Blazakis dropped out of the race in early February, successfully yielding the first to Altman.

“There was someone with a more moderate, i.e., male, profile,” Malinowski informed HuffPost on the Hunterdon County conference in February. “He didn’t catch on.”

He urged Altman’s success with rank-and-file Democrats within the district was its personal testomony to her electability.

“These people are very pragmatic. They’re not uber-progressive,” he mentioned. “They have one interest in a congressional race, which is winning.”

Of course, Kean could be a formidable opponent for any Democrat to dislodge. He is a dependable occasion vote within the House GOP Conference and backed the short-lived speakership bid of MAGA Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) final October. But he has tried to take care of a veneer of moderation by way of membership within the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

And Altman’s fundraising prowess can solely take her up to now towards a swing-seat incumbent able to paying New York City space promoting charges. She had simply over $900,000 available on the finish of March, in contrast with Kean’s $2.4 million.

But the race for progressive assist in New Jersey’s 2025 gubernatorial race is already benefiting Altman. A deep-pocketed tremendous PAC related to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, a candidate for governor courting progressives, plans to spend a portion of its $8.5 million battle chest on Altman’s behalf.

The successful effort by Rep. Andy Kim, a Democratic Senate candidate, to end the state's "county line" system built on Altman's work and signaled a decline in establishment power.
The profitable effort by Rep. Andy Kim, a Democratic Senate candidate, to finish the state’s “county line” system constructed on Altman’s work and signaled a decline in institution energy.

Winning Over Skeptics

When Democrats speak about what attracts them to Altman, they usually describe her as somebody “smart,” who merely places within the work to win their votes.

“When I went to hear her speak, I was thinking, ‘We’re not going to win this one with a Working Families person,’” mentioned Sharon Glover, a homemaker from Tewksbury, who attended the county conference as a delegate. “But once I heard her speak, I’m like, she’s really smart. She really understands our community. She wants to listen and we don’t always get that.”

That enchantment extends to average voters like Jordan Glatt, a college administrator who beforehand ran a profitable client items producer and served as mayor of Summit. Glatt informed HuffPost that he identifies as a “conservative Democrat,” due to his fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. He was supporting New Jersey first girl Tammy Murphy, the institution selection within the U.S. Senate major, earlier than she dropped out in March.

He gravitated to Altman as a result of “she went and took on the political bosses. She wasn’t partisan about who she spoke out against,” he mentioned. “When she saw a wrong in South Jersey, she spoke up.”

Glatt, now a Springfield resident, was initially involved that Altman was too left-wing, however was impressed together with her after they spoke.

Altman additionally reached out to Lisa Grattan, a retired lawyer from Summit and self-described average who has “an aversion to staunch ideology and reflexiveness.” Like Glatt, Grattan noticed Altman’s clashes with the New Jersey machine as a testomony to her ideas. She didn’t obtain private outreach from every other candidates, and appreciated studying from Altman that she had gone to highschool with one among Altman’s aunts.

“She is just more than anyone I’ve seen in my lifetime, running for office as a reflection of her integrity, her authenticity, her honesty, and the degree to which she genuinely cares.”

– Lisa Grattan, retired lawyer

“She is just more than anyone I’ve seen in my lifetime, running for office as a reflection of her integrity, her authenticity, her honesty, and the degree to which she genuinely cares,” she mentioned.

As it turned out, the Hunterdon County conference the place I spoke to Altman, Malinowski, and Glover was one of many final gasps of a New Jersey machine that Altman had been combating for years. While Altman was already the presumptive Democratic nominee in late February, Murphy and Rep. Andy Kim had been nonetheless competing fiercely within the Senate major for each final county occasion endorsement. At the time, New Jersey nonetheless had the “county line” system that empowered county events to provide candidates they endorse favorable placement on the first poll.

Anticipating Kim would win his third county endorsement in a row, Murphy’s allies within the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee sought a last-minute rule change to allow Murphy to share high poll placement. The rule failed and Kim obtained the endorsement, however not earlier than native Democrats cried foul about soiled methods that appeared to verify their worst fears concerning the New Jersey Democratic institution’s corruption.

As head of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, Altman had spearheaded the group’s participation in, and funding of, a federal lawsuit searching for to overturn the “county line.”

But that day in Flemington — a 20-minute drive from Altman’s house — Altman, now on the within, declined to straight condemn the actions of Hunterdon County Democratic Committee’s leaders. She did counsel that the day’s occasions — a Hail Mary play by a county occasion cautious of Kim’s opposition to the “line,” and its subsequent defeat by indignant Democratic activists — had been the marks of a system in its demise throes.

“It’s an antiquated system that will rot on the vine if it doesn’t die on its own,” she predicted. “It’s the end of the line for the line.”

Altman’s phrases proved right. The following day, Kim joined the federal lawsuit towards “the line,” asking for an emergency injunction to strike down the road in time for New Jersey’s Democratic primaries on June 4. And in late March, a federal choose dominated in his favor, reworking New Jersey politics for the foreseeable future.