Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Florham Park, N.J., Oct. 18: Mikie Sherrill, the Democratic candidate for New Jersey's 11th congressional district, speaks at a candidates' meeting at the Florham Park Public Library.

Jackie Molloy/The Globe and Mail

The buzz starts near the back of the crowd and ripples through the ranks of nearly 100 Democratic Party faithful. They swivel in unison to gawk at a smiling woman who has just slipped into this activity room at a suburban public library. The object of their ardour is Mikie Sherrill, Democratic candidate in New Jersey’s 11th congressional district, and the personification of the party’s new emphasis on women and veterans.

As she makes her way to the front of the room, shaking hands and hugging people, excited murmurs fill the air. In this leafy, affluent, deeply Republican area, Ms. Sherrill is the most disruptive force to hit the local political scene in decades.

The suburban mother of four and former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot is on track to defy history and win the 11th district on Nov. 6, forming part of a Democratic counterblast to U.S. President Donald Trump in the midterm elections. Her victory would be noteworthy in itself, but also for its wider implications: Democrats need to win only 23 districts now held by Republicans to seize control of the 435-seat House of Representatives.

Story continues below advertisement

Democratic control of the House would break the Republican grip on both chambers of Congress. It could corral Mr. Trump’s America First policy on trade and limit the White House’s attempts to dismember Obamacare. It might also put more oversight on the President himself. It could, in short, spell the beginning of the end for Trumpism.

But all of that hinges on what transpires in key districts like New Jersey’s 11th, which voted narrowly for Mr. Trump in 2016. For the past three decades, this swath of suburban commuter towns an hour outside of Manhattan has elected a Republican congressman to office, usually by margins of 19 per cent or more.

In Florham Park, an attendee at the candidates' meeting wears a Mikie Sherrill pin.

Jackie Molloy/The Globe and Mail

Ms. Sherrill is the rare candidate with the charisma and credentials to bust that Republican dominance. The 46-year-old is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Georgetown law school and the London School of Economics. She’s flown Navy helicopters and served as a federal prosecutor. “And, on top of that, she can give a good speech,” says Ben Dworkin, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. “When people meet her, they like her.”

Her opponent is no lightweight, though. Jay Webber, also 46, is a graduate of Harvard law school, a six-time assemblyman in the state legislature and a former chair of the state Republican party. A father of seven, he is a social conservative and supporter of Mr. Trump. Perhaps most important, he is waging political battle in a district his party has always regarded as its own.

“Political people in New Jersey joke that the 11th district in New Jersey is constitutionally Republican,” says Mr. Dworkin, a long-time observer of the state’s politics. “It’s been Republican forever and should, in any normal year, be the safest of safe Republican districts. But 2018 is not a normal year.”

New Jersey state assemblyman Jay Webber, second from right, stands on stage with his family and House Speaker Paul Ryan at a rally in Whippany, N.J.

JACKIE MOLLOY/The Globe and Mail

What makes 2018 so unusual is Mr. Trump, an exceptionally divisive President who has alienated many traditional Republicans, especially women. As a result, Democrats are proving to be competitive in regions, from Georgia to South Dakota to New Jersey’s 11th district, where they have not been a force for years.

Despite that broadening appeal, polls don’t give them much chance of winning back the Senate. However, the pollsters say Democrats are in excellent position to take control of the House of Representatives. The non-partisan Cook Political Report puts them on pace to gain between 25 and 35 seats, comfortably above the 23 needed for a majority.

Story continues below advertisement

Of course, as the world learned in the 2016 presidential election, pollsters can be wrong. The President still commands fierce loyalty among roughly 4 in 10 voters nationwide, essentially unchanged since election day.

His enduring appeal has led to the great oddity of the 2018 midterms: In an election that in many ways is all about Mr. Trump, many candidates of both parties treat him as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Ms. Sherrill, for instance, never utters the T-word in her 15-minute appearance before voters at the Florham Park library. Instead, she offers a shout-out to recently deceased Republican senator John McCain and cites him as an example of someone who put country ahead of personal interests.

At the Florham Park event, Ms. Sherrill tells voters about the need to speak up against leadership you disagree with.

Jackie Molloy/The Globe and Mail

The reason she is running, she tells her audience, is because she fears the growing tendency of many elected officials to stick slavishly to a party line. It reminds her of a lesson she learned at the Naval Academy: The necessity of speaking up. The worst thing you can do in the Navy is to run your ship aground, Ms. Sherrill says, but when investigators probe such accidents, they discover many of the calamities occur despite crew members being well aware of the impending disaster. Junior officers and ordinary sailors remain silent, even as catastrophe looms.

“Sometimes it’s because they’re afraid of the captain … sometimes it’s because they don’t think it’s their job,” she says. The same is true in politics, she notes: “What we have in Congress now are too many people who are putting their self-interest ahead of the country” instead of focusing on issues, such as affordable health care, infrastructure spending and tax reform that could help middle-class families.

Her pitch is bipartisan, middle of the road and crafted to fit a district where most polls show her leading the race, but not by much. A Monmouth University poll, published in early October, puts her ahead 48 per cent to 44 per cent, within the survey’s margin of error.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Webber is questioned by the news media after his rally in Whippany.

Jackie Molloy/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Webber’s campaign has counterattacked by accusing Ms. Sherrill of being a hypocrite and “hard-left culture warrior.” In a mid-afternoon rally in a suburban Marriott hotel with retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, Mr. Webber trumpets the red-hot U.S. economy and tells his audience of about 160 cheering Republican loyalists that “America is winning everyday ” under the current administration. But he too avoids mentioning Mr. Trump by name.

When pressed on the issue in a press scrum, Mr. Webber declares himself to be perfectly in tune with the President. He says he would welcome a presidential visit to the district. “He’s the leader of the free world. I’d love him to come.”

Perhaps so, but New Jersey voters have particular reason to dislike the President. His tax reform package last year limited the ability of people in highly taxed states like New Jersey to deduct state and local levies against federal obligations. Washington has also been reluctant to get behind a badly needed project to build a new rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan.

One result has been a massive flow of dollars to Ms. Sherrill’s campaign. Based on figures to the end of September, she has raised US$7-million to Mr. Webber’s US$1.2-million, according to the website OpenSecrets.org. The edge in fundraising could prove decisive on election day, when the real opponent for both parties will be Team Apathy.

Mr. Dworkin, the maven of New Jersey politics, notes that only 42 to 46 per cent of registered voters in the state turn out in a typical midterm election. “If you get a surge, and a lot of those are Democratic voters, that could change everything, because these are races in traditionally Republican districts that are going to be close.”

east coast battleground

NEW YORK

UNITED

STATES

Hudson

River

NEW JERSEY

0

10

Montclair

KM

Morristown

11th congressional

district:Rodney Freling-

huysen (R) carried the

district by 19 percentage

points in 2016 while

Donald Trump won it by

less than one percentage

point.

Newark

New

York

The district has 265,797 households with a median income of US$112,348

District profile

Total:729,569

Population(2017 est.)

Male

356,594

Female

372,975

Latest Monmouth poll

(Oct. 9, likely voters)

48%

44%

Jay Webber (R)

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Total money raised

(In millions of US$, Sept. 30)

$7.0

$1.2

Jay Webber (R)

Mikie Sherrill (D)

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

state of new jersey; census.gov;

opensecrets.org; nj.com

east coast battleground

NEW YORK

UNITED

STATES

Hudson

River

NEW JERSEY

0

10

Montclair

KM

Morristown

11th congressional district:

Rodney Frelinghuysen (R)

carried the district by 19 per-

centage points in 2016 while

Donald Trump won it by less

than one percentage point.

Newark

New

York

The district has 265,797 households with a median income of US$112,348

PENNSYLVANIA

District profile

Total:729,569

Population(2017 est.)

Male

356,594

Female

372,975

Latest Monmouth poll

(Oct. 9, likely voters)

48%

44%

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Jay Webber (R)

Total money raised

(In millions of US$, Sept. 30)

$7.0

$1.2

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Jay Webber (R)

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: state of

new jersey; census.gov; open secrets.org; nj.com

east coast battleground

NEW YORK

UNITED

STATES

Hudson

River

0

10

Montclair

KM

Morristown

11th congressional district:

Rodney Frelinghuysen (R)

carried the district by 19 per-

centage points in 2016 while

Donald Trump won it by less

than one percentage point.

Newark

New

York

The district has 265,797 households with a median income of US$112,348

PENNSYLVANIA

NEW JERSEY

District profile

Total:729,569

Population(2017 est.)

Male

356,594

Female

372,975

Race *

Latest Monmouth poll

(Oct. 9, likely voters)

White

597,063

48%

44%

Black or African

American

26,686

American Indian

and Alaska native

1,510

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Jay Webber (R)

Asian

78,160

Total money raised

(In millions of US$, Sept. 30)

Native Hawaiian and

other Pacific Islander

355

$7.0

Some other race

11,250

$1.2

Two or more races

14,545

Mikie Sherrill (D)

Jay Webber (R)

*According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “white” includes anyone, “having origins in any of the

original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa.” Hispanic is not defined as a race using

this definition. There are 83,359 “Hispanic or Latino (of any race)” counted among these figures.

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: state of new jersey;

census.gov; open secrets.org; nj.com

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies