Bader Qarmout is an Arab-American who believes his strong support of Israel and religious freedom will win him Jewish support in the New Jersey Senate race.
Qarmout, a Christian, was born in Jordan and immigrated to America with his parents in 1976 when he was eight years old.
He said he is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democrat Robert Menendez in the Nov. 6 general election.
His first challenge will be to best State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Dist. 13), the current frontrunner and a close ally of Gov. Chris Christie, in the June 5 Republican primary.
Qarmout, who owns and manages real estate and teaches part-time at County College of Morris, is banking on his credentials as a businessman to defeat two of the state’s political giants.
“I do believe I have a chance,” he told NJ Jewish News in a Feb. 27 telephone interview. “Kyrillos is an established, entrenched, 20-year politician. I am not. Kyrillos is a part of New Jersey’s problem. New Jersey’s problems have been happening over years while he has been sitting in Trenton in the Senate. We need business-minded individuals to run the government as a business.”
He touts his lack of political experience as a major asset.
“I am often asked, ‘Why don’t I first run for dog catcher or mayor or freeholder or assemblyman?’ If I did all that I would be the career politician I am trying to get out of office,” he said.
While focusing on reducing deficits and government spending, Qarmout considers the Middle East a major campaign issue.
“The possibility of peace in the Middle East must be achieved by the parties in the Middle East. If Israel wants peace but its enemy does not, then peace is impossible,” he told NJJN. “I don’t believe all the Arab nations are enemies of Israel, but I believe many are. Many have felt that Israel deserves no right to exist.”
He declined to say whether Israel should be prepared to remove its troops and settlements from the West Bank.
“I believe negotiation of that detail has to be hammered out by both parties,” he said. “If Israel said, ‘This is something we have to do,’ I would respect that. If Israel said, ‘This is not something we could do and exist with a group that is building missiles close to us,’ I have to respect that.”
He said Jewish voters should appreciate his views on freedom of religion.
The government should not be “sticking its hand or foot into their shuls or temples or synagogues,” he said. “I would support school vouchers for any community in order to educate their children according to their beliefs.”
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Feb. 28 shows Menendez with a commanding 44 to 22 percent lead over Kyrillos. Pollster David Redlawsk told NJJN that neither Qarmout nor the other announced candidate in the GOP primary, Toms River businessman Joseph Rullo, was included in his survey.
“The reality is, none of [the Republican candidates] has a statewide profile, although Kyrillos comes the closest, and his awareness level is roughly between 11 and 15 percent,” said Redlawsk.
Should he win the primary, Qarmout believes his ideas for immigration reform could pull Latino support away from Cuban-American Menendez.
Qarmout supports deploying heavy security at the borders, but advocates allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States if they register with the government, pay $10,000 fines, commit no crimes while in the country, and wait 10 years before being permitted to apply for Green Card status.
Qarmout, who lives in Green Township outside Newton, grew up in Paterson. His biography lists an associate’s degree from County College of Morris, a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Hawaii, and a master’s in social work from Rutgers University. He ran his family plastics business until 2009.
He and his wife, Jennifer Fox Qarmout, have a son and three daughters.
“I would like my Jewish brethren to see me as an American more than anything else,” he said, “because my solutions are geared toward a unified America — not partisan, not religious vs. secular.
“I believe we all can be unified for the good of the nation. The more divisive we become, the weaker as a nation we become. Assimilation is important.”