By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
Four years ago, the Congressional Midterm races dominated national headlines. The media, recognizing something unique and largely unprecedented was underway within the GOP, became infatuated with the then-burgeoning Tea Party movement, a coalition of Rightwing anti-tax activists who were wreaking havoc within the Republican Party’s primaries. The movement’s explosive growth became a topic of interest to even the most lax of observers, understandably fascinated by the notion that ideologically pure Tea Partiers could be sent to Washington that November. It was a big year for conservative Republicans, a feather in the three-cornered hat of the likes of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levin. By 2012, however, public fascination with the Tea Party had cooled. In the midst of a contentious presidential race, the Right failed to recapture its previous glory.
At the height of the Tea Party’s strength, the Sixth Congressional District race became among the more high-profile contests in New Jersey. Incumbent Congressman Frank Pallone, an unabashedly progressive Democrat with a record of supporting socially liberal causes, found himself facing off against former Atlantic Highlands Mayor Anna Little, the conservative who managed to defeat moderate Diane Gooch during the Republican primary. With an army of Tea Partiers behind her, Mayor Little managed to secure forty-three percent of the vote in 2010 and thirty-five percent two years later.
Now, with another round of Midterm Elections at hand, the Sixth District race may once again provide an interesting window into the continued battle between the Democrats and the Republican Right. Though there were initial rumors to the contrary, Mayor Little declined to make a third run for Congress, and Detroit-born attorney Anthony Wilkinson entered the race. A social and fiscal conservative, he opposes Obamacare, legislation that was closely associated with Congressman Pallone.
Congressman Pallone, who will be launching his re-election candidacy with a barbeque fundraiser in Long Branch this Sunday, is an iconic figure in Jersey Shore politics. Known as one of the prime backers of the Affordable Care Act, the incumbent enjoys strong popularity within the Democratic Party as well as his district. He also spent a great deal of time earlier this year as one of the most vocal defenders of Obamacare in the wake of Tea Party criticism that the President lied by saying that those who liked their insurance policies could remain on their existing plans following the law’s implementation (note: they could do so if the individual healthcare providers continued offering those plans, which was often not the case, as many were terminated because they failed to meet the more stringent guidelines in effect following the law’s implementation).
Of course, healthcare isn’t the only point of contention between the Democratic and Republican nominees; their stances on social issues and immigration policy are largely disparate as well. Since the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling in July, Republicans and Democrats have once again found themselves at odds over what the proper role of government and business should be in providing birth control. Speaking to assembled supporters at the Monmouth Worship Center last weekend, Wilkinson made his support for the Hobby Lobby ruling clear:
“There is no reason why anybody should be asked to violate some of the most important principles they live by,” he said. “When you have cases like Hobby Lobby, that need to be decided to tell the government they don’t have the right to tell a business to pay for drugs that they believe will end human life, then there’s a problem. We shouldn’t have to tell our government that. Know why we shouldn’t have to tell our government that? Because it already written down…the Founders already wrote it down.”
Congressman Pallone, on the other hand, was a vocal critic of the ruling, as evidenced in a July 14th Tweet: “#HobbyLobby ruling most hurts women who work hourly jobs & struggle to make ends meet. I’m cosponsoring #NotMyBossBusiness Act to fix that.” In similar fashion, he recently called upon President Obama to not allow for a religious exemption in an executive order protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals from being fired on account of their sexual orientation.
With the crisis at the United States and Mexican border intensifying, immigration policy, another area where Wilkinson and the incumbent disagree, will likely become another integral part of the political dialogue.
“There are many people from Mexico and Central America and South America who have gone the moral way and made the sacrifice and they are here, they are paying taxes, and are a functioning part of our community,” Wilkinson said. “We want to do the same for everybody that wants to come here, rather than funneling people illegally across the border so that certain people can have cheap labor. That is not helping them and it is not helping us.”
Congressman Pallone is co-sponsor of H.R. 15: the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which would update existing immigration policy. In an October 2013 press release, he was quoted as saying: “Our immigration system is broken and in need of major repair. Back in June, the Senate acted in a bipartisan way – with a strong vote of 68 to 32 – to pass commonsense comprehensive immigration reform. Now it’s the House’s turn.”
As has been the case for the past two election cycles, the race in the Sixth District will likely provide insight into the seemingly eternal showdown between the Right and Left, as well as a window to assess what ways the political climate has evolved since the 2012 race. Both Democrats and Republicans are excited about their nominees, but whether or not the media will share that enthusiasm has yet to be seen.