Bergen County Destination: X factors driving the outcome of critical freeholder contests
By Max Pizarro | November 5th, 2012 - 1:49pm
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Bergen County sources in both parties agree the freeholder contests that will determine which party controls the board will mostly come down to factors outside of anyone’s county control.

It starts with Hurricane Sandy.

Bergen County is not the Jersey Shore but there are still pockets without power.

Operatives who made television advertisements and mailers have looked on helplessly these past few days as those carefully crafted final arguments went for naught.

“You’re also walking the fine line of what’s in good taste,” said veteran GOP operative Thom Ammirato. “If you can find volunteers at this point, it’s a little insensitive to be showing up to someone’s house right now with a door knocker when someone’s inside huddled around the fireplace. If I were that person opening the door on people asking for votes I would take that door knocker and throw it in the fireplace.”

Incumbent GOP Freeholder Rob Hermansen disputes a time out atmosphere.

"We have door knockers in targeted areas right now," he said. "There are certain communities receptive to certain things, and the people whose doors we’ve knocked on are glad to see us, and many of them say the same things, including, 'We never see candidates.' The bottom line is people have to be ready. I guarantee Democrats are out there right now. We’ve got to get the people out. I’m happy I got the endorsement of the Bergen Record. People have come to me thanking me for working hard and I feel good about our message."

The fractures within the Republican Party are exhaustively documented. Hermansen (running with Peg Watkins) has long been a detestable presence to Republican Party Chairman Bob Yudin, and vice versa. But it won’t matter, insiders say.

“Very few people voting in this election know or care about that,” a Democratic source told PolitickerNJ.com.

Inspite of Hermansen's efforts, a YouTube ad hyping the candidacies of Democratic challengers Tracy Zur and Steve Tanelli has over 1,000 views. This is the pair whose victory would put the freeholder board back in Democratic hands, flipping it from 5-2 Republican to 4-3 Democrat.

Yet if the interest is soft particularly in the aftermath of a hurricane, many participating voters care about the presidential election, and Republicans and Democrats both say President Barack Obama is not a popular incumbent in Bergen.

Four years ago, Obama won Bergen by nine points, or 40,000 votes. A Democratic tracking poll after the first presidential debate showed Obama and Romney in a dogfight, the party source said.

While Democrats here don’t feel overly confident with Obama at the top of the ticket, the GOP is off the record worried about the congressional and senate contests.

First, there’s the District 9 general election, where energized (and well-funded) Republican challenger Rabbi Schmuley is making incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) work.

That dynamic drives some GOP sources meshuggah, because Pascrell has the reputation of a work animal who gets motivated by a fistfight.

Democrats feel confident a riled Pascrell will help drive turnout in that portion of Bergen.

On the other side of the county, a reverse dynamic is occurring where Republican Tea Party darling U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) faces an invisible challenger in Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen.

Gussen has no money and appears to have marching orders to keep his mouth shut for the most part – or at least strategically targeted - and do nothing that will in any way convince the well-financed Garrett that he’s in a real contest.

If it means an ego boost for Gussen by coming a few more points within Garrett in losing versus control of the freeholder board – Democrats want Gussen to keep himself in perspective.

Then there’s the U.S. Senate race.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) runs well ahead of challenger state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13) in statewide polls and counts Bergen on a single hand as one of his most important base counties.

The one up-side to a powerless home stretch of the race for Bergen Democrats is that Kyrillos entered the contest with no name ID while Menendez is almost as well known in Bergen as he is in his own Hudson County.

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