Since he first ran for the House of Representatives in 1994, Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen has received upward of 60 percent of the vote in New Jersey’s 11th congressional district.
But that doesn’t seem to faze Douglas Herbert.
The Chatham Democrat is determined to unseat Frelinghuysen. He believes that GOP challengers will not be the only ones to benefit from anti-incumbent sentiments that he said are sweeping the nation.
“This year the tide is turning,” he told NJ Jewish News in an interview at a Morristown coffee house. “A lot of Republicans I speak with are really dissatisfied with what Rodney Frelinghuysen is doing. A lot of them are angry. They don’t know what he’s doing.”
It is the second time that Herbert, an Indiana native who practices law in Brooklyn, has run for office. In 2009 he captured some 40 percent of the vote in a losing battle against Assemblyman Alex De Croce (R-Dist. 26).
But this time he expects stronger support from the district’s trade unions and women’s groups and he has raised “a lot of money from small donors,” said Herbert’s campaign manager, Bassam Gergi. “But right now the Republican Party is split in Morris County and the race comes down to who can turn out their base and get support from independents.”
An active Democrat in his hometown, Herbert serves on Chatham’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Joint Recreation Committee of Chatham Borough and Chatham Township. He was also a founding member of Chatham’s Green Initiatives Committee.
Despite his relative lack of political experience, Herbert is convinced Frelinghuysen is vulnerable.
He “portrays himself as an independent up here, then goes down to Washington and votes an almost straight Republican Party line,” said Herbert. “He did not participate in the health care reform debate. He voted against it, then the next day he came up and said, ‘We need health care reform.’
“He goes around the district talking about small-business reform, but he voted against a tax incentive bill that would have helped small business. He talks about the need for financial reform, but he voted against the financial reform bill.”
Herbert said he believes Frelinghuysen and the Republican Party “are playing politics because they do not want to be seen as voting for anything that the Democrats or President Obama support going into the election.”
Not so, responded Frelinghuysen in an e-mail to NJJN.
“Republicans are pushing back against President Obama and the Democrats because their policies are simply not what the American people want. What we need right now are solutions, preferably bipartisan solutions, to get people back to work and get our economy on track: a plan to create wealth, not redistribute it,” Frelinghuysen wrote.
The congressman also denied that he is being obstructionist in anticipation of the November elections.
“I have always voted in the best interests of my constituents, and right now that means opposing President Obama’s plans to further extend the Federal government’s reach into every aspect of our lives and drive up our national debt to historic levels,” Frelinghuysen wrote.
In some ways, Herbert, too, is critical of Obama.
“If I were to grade him, I would give him a B. He has gotten through some major pieces of legislation. He is attempting to move the ball forward, to make things better for people.” But, Herbert added, “he has not done real well with communication.”
And when it comes to dealing with the BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the candidate is even less lenient. “I’d give Obama a D,” he said. “I would have liked to see him more involved in the cleanup and coordination. It seemed like he was detached at times.”
As a United States Army veteran who served in the Signal Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division, Herbert originally supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“But now, they have morphed into something that has been going on too long. I think it is time we addressed how long we need to be in each country,” he said. “I think the Iraqi government is coming around to a point where we can see a diminishment in that war. In Afghanistan we have to help build a new government. I hope we can stop what is happening to our young men and women. We have put a lot of money into these wars.”
Herbert believes Iranian nuclear weapons “are a huge concern. We need to continue to apply pressure through the United Nations and, if need be, through an embargo.”
Might that lead to opening a third battleground in the Middle East?
“I think if we have to, we have to,” he said. “There are some things so big that you have to put your resources into them. A threat that the Iranian government would actually use nuclear weapons is one of those issues. If we have to put financial and military support into stopping it, I think we should do that.”
Apart from geopolitical considerations, Herbert views the issue from a personal dimension.
Herbert is not Jewish, but his wife, Marcy Wecker, is, and she has a cousin in Tel Aviv, and a member of her extended family lives in Jerusalem.
Herbert said he supports Jewish settlements on the West Bank “as long as there is some sort of dialogue going on with the Palestinians, but dialogue over there is very difficult right now.”
He said he thinks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is open to direct talks with the Palestinians. “But I wonder when the Palestinians and going to put down their rocks and their bombs and start talking in earnest,” he said.