The top three Republican leaders in the US House of Representatives backed Rep. Christopher Smith for re-election to New Jersey’s 4th District, a move that makes a main challenge against the 21-term holder more difficult.
“Chris Smith is a bold and effective lawmaker for the people of New Jersey in the United States House of Representatives,” said Parliamentary Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Joining McCarthy, who is the leading presidential candidate if the GOP wins a majority in the next midterm election, to support Smith for another term, are House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Republican Conference President Elise Stefanik .
Under a Democratic redistribution map approved last month, Smith’s hometown of Hamilton has been placed in Borough 3 with Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown). Smith had said he would seek re-election in his constituency, where he has already represented around 80% of voters in the past.
“Chris is a strong advocate for unborn children and the rights of humanity,” said McCarthy.
“He holds China to account, protects our national borders and sovereignty, and works tirelessly to identify solutions for autism and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Scalise called Smith “a real fighter”.
“True to his principles, Chris knows how to protect our nation’s precious values, defend a strong economy, and defend the rights that make America the beacon of freedom for the world,” he said.
In a statement, Stefanik called Smith “a pioneer who paved the way for the protection of women and children in the United States and around the world from the heinous crime of human trafficking.”
“He has also created important programs for our nation’s veterans, families dealing with autism and seniors struggling with Alzheimer’s disease,” Stefanik said.
Support from Republican leaders contrasts with a call by former President Donald Trump to key lawmakers backing a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year.
Smith has displayed a streak of independence since the ousting of 13-term Representative Frank Thompson, Jr. (D-Trenton) in 1980, but has twice voted against Trump’s impeachment.
Save Jersey reported that conservative podcaster Michael Crispi will announce his candidacy to challenge Smith in the June GOP primary this week; and that political strategist Roger Stone will lead his campaign.
Stone has played a role in the New Jersey campaigns since he was Tom Kean’s consultant in the 1981 gubernatorial race.
Crispi, 27, ran for Morris County Freeholder in 2017, but lost the GOP primary.
Reverend Shawn Hyland, the former executive director of the New Jersey Family Policy Alliance, has gone from an attempt to challenge Kim to a primary against Smith3 after his hometown in Ocean County was rediscovered.
Four other Republicans are already defying Smith: Englishtown city councilor Daniel Francisco, real estate agent and US military veteran Mike Blasi, David Burg, a former general counsel for NBCUniversal, and perennial candidate Tricia Flanagan. Englishtown is now in the 3rd arrondissement.
Smith, 68, is a senior member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
“I am grateful for the support and friendship of these extraordinary Republican leaders,” Smith said. “President Biden and the Democrat-controlled Congress have been a disaster and I look forward to being a part of the next Republican Congress and the restoration of a strong and respected United States of America.”
The new 4th arrondissement is more republican than the current one. Last November, Gov. Phil Murphy lost the district by more than 30 points.
Smith became the longest-serving congressman in New Jersey history on Jan.3, 2021, exceeding the 20-term tenure of House Judiciary Committee chairman Peter W. Rodino (D-Newark). Still, he’s younger than five other New Jersey House members, including first-year rep Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis).
Often underestimated, Smith will now run for his 22nd term in a district that has been redesigned seven times since winning the seat as a 27-year-old Republican in 1980.
Smith was 25 when he challenged Thompson, the chairman of the powerful House Administration Committee, in 1978. He lost by 24 points.
Undeterred, Smith raced again in 1980.
Circumstances have changed.
Thompson was involved in the FBI undercover operation known as Abscam, when an undercover agent posing as an Arab sheikh offered the congressman a cash bribe for the help circumvent federal immigration laws.
This time Smith won. He beat Thompson by 26,967 votes, a range of 47% to 41%.
When Smith ran for a second term in 1982, he faced the most powerful opponent possible: Joe Merlino, a cigar-eating 60-year-old former state Senate speaker who was considering going to Congress. as a sort of consolation prize after losing a race for the governor. one year earlier.
The former 4th District was a middle-class Democratic neighborhood that mainly comprised the counties of Mercer and Middlesex, with small parts in Burlington and Monmouth. Jimmy Carter had won 54% in the former 4th in 1976, and Smith received only 38% when he ran against 12-term incumbent Frank Thompson in 1978. In 1980, after Thompson was indicted in the Abscam scandal, Smith won with 57%.
When the legislature was designating congressional constituencies, Merlino had been instrumental in redesigning the 4th to make it even more democratic. The map was drawn during the lame duck session of the 1981 legislature, when Merlino was still Speaker of the Senate. Democratic Governor Brendan Byrne signed the card just before Republican Tom Kean succeeded him.
Smith’s hometown of Old Bridge was abandoned, along with other towns in southern Middlesex he had won over. Instead, he traveled down the Delaware River through Burlington and picked up Pennsauken in Camden County.
Comparing apples to apples, the former 4th gave Reagan a 47% to 44% win over Carter; Carter had beaten Reagan 47% -45% in the New District.
While Merlino received the advantage early on, Smith worked hard – and fought hard.
A memorable Smith TV commercial contrasted with Merlino’s image as an old-fashioned backroom politician. There was a lit cigar in an ashtray in a smoky room, as well as voices of people saying they didn’t approve of “Boss Merlino” distorting Smith’s record. The ad then moved on to an energetic campaign by Smith as other voices spoke out about why they loved their congressman.
Merlino’s most unforgettable television commercial was shot in black and white as an imitation of the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The ad shows a young vagrant hitchhiking as a voiceover attacks Smith. This was followed by the actor playing Smith who got knocked down on the Capitol steps with the narrator urging voters to kick Smith out of Washington and replace him with Merlino.
Republicans have asked actor Jimmy Stewart, who played Mr. Smith in the film, to release a slamming Merlino statement.
“When I played Mr. Smith in this photo, I didn’t think he was naive,” said Stewart. “I thought he believed in the honesty and integrity of government, the rights of the people and the love of his country.”
Stewart applauded Smith’s record as a congressman for the first term – “I hope you win,” he said – and Merlino withdrew the announcement which had clearly backfired.
Smith won that 1982 race by 10,002 votes, 53% to 47%. He won Hamilton, where he moved to be able to live within the boundaries of the new district, in roughly the same proportions.
Since his first election, Smith has presented six different cards and has represented parts of Middlesex, Mercer, Burlington, Camden, Monmouth and Ocean counties in Congress.
In her last re-election against Democrat Stephanie Schmid, Smith won 91,683 votes, 60% to 38%.