PATERSON - Peppering his speech with Spanish buzzwords like "alcalde" and "cerveza," and radiating eye-of-the-tiger combativeness, Rep. Bill Pascrell rallied 9th District Latinos tonight and took an oratorical double barrel to U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) and U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), targeting the former for toiling on the country's rightward fringes, and the latter for lacking the spine to stop him when given the chance.
"I'm a fighter against the Republican extremists who don't care about the middle class and the working poor," Pascrell told a raucous crowd at the Bonfire amid tar-roofed factories, chain link fences and crisscrossing highways.
"Mr. Garrett will continue to try to slash and burn budgeting tactics with no thought about the impact on the midddle class," yelled Pascrell in the rain-spattered banquet hall. "We could have been one seat closer to that majority. Instead we are one seat further from a majority because my opponent chose to challenge me. It's unfortunate my opponent chose to cut and run instead of standing and fighting them, as I will continue to do."
A Republican redistricting map sliced Rothman's hometown of Fair Lawn out of the bulk of his Bergen County-based district and planted him on a collision course with Garrett in a Garrett-friendly district. Rather than wage a general election war on Garrett with help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) - the NJ delegation's resident Tea Party incumbent - Rothman opted for an intra-party primary against Pascrell, banking on the big chunk of Bergen County to outmuscle Pascrell's Paterson and Passaic County.
Infuriated, Pascrell tonight charged Rothman with dereliction of duty.
"As a proud military veteran," the 15-year incumbent said, "I remember what the acronym AWOL means."
Cheers engulfed the podium at the front of the crammed, standing-O room where state Sen. Nellie Pou (D-35), North Haledon, and Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco flanked the congressman.
"You've never seen me run away from a fight," screamed Pascrell as people, Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie among them - cleared their seats. "I never ran from a fight in Congress. I never ran from a fight in the legislature. I never ran from a fight as mayor. I never ran from a fight on the streets."
The crowd was going berserk when Pascrell added, "It doesn't mean you start fights. It means you finish them."
On paper, the newly configured 9th District should give Rothman 62% of the vote, but insiders fuming over Rothman's audacity to challenge Pascrell acknowledge their challenge is to get their message of a cannibalizing Rothman to rank and file voters.
"The people who should be fighting for us are fighting us," the congressman said.
Team Pascrell has a four-pronged strategy: peel away votes in South Bergen, gin votes in Passaic and Clifton, drill massive turnout in Paterson, and try to suppress votes in Rothman's Bergen breadbasket.
But Rothman has already pounded three heartbreaking stakes in the 75-year-old veteran's base, sawing off the Passaic County endorsement of Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), securing the endorsement of Latino clergy, and managing to get a press release from Paterson's Dominican American electeds that they intend to stay neutral in the primary.
Tonight was an early Team Pascrell chest-thumping exercise at ground zero, meant to show Hispanic strength.
"He's a great man, and he's my congressman," Blanco told PolitickerNJ.com.
"The 9th District deserves a fighter," Pascrell said. "Someone who can fight against the extremes of Republican extremism and their continued assaults. I did not discover the Latino community. We played ball together. We cried together. We marched together. We wept together. We fought together. You've got to earn it. You've got to EARN it. I was the alcalde of this city."
Arms rose in waves amid the din.
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