The New Jersey primary between Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Englewood) in a newly created district has turned bitter as the one-time allies accuse each other of having flawed records and no ties to the district.
It also is taking on shades of the Obama/Clinton 2008 presidential primary. Former President Bill Clinton announced on Friday plans to campaign for Pascrell, while President Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod is backing Rothman.
"We're going to win," Pascrell told HuffPost. "I am very confident that President Clinton will be a big help. He is making calls for us in the district."
The race unfolded after New Jersey after the Garden State lost one seat and its congressional redistricting commission placed Rothman's hometown -- Fair Lawn -- into a competitive district with Rep. Scott Garrett (R). Instead of challenging Garrett, Rothman chose to challenge Pascrell in Democratic-leaning District 9 which encompassed much of Rothman's former district. The decision necessitated a move to Englewood, a community where he was mayor in the 1980s.
"Just because the Republicans on the redistricting commission got their way to cut off the town where I had a house and paste it onto Scott Garrett's district in order to remove me from my home district, did not mean that I would abandon the friends and neighbors I have represented," Rothman said.
Fifty-seven percent of the new district is from Rothman's former district, with the remaining 43 percent encompassing Pascrell territory. The race has taken on a turf-war feel as Rothman and Pascrell secure their bases in Bergen and Passaic counties respectively, and battle over Hudson County, parts of which Rothman used to represent.
The two have also fought for the progressive mantle. Rothman claims Pascrell supports lowering taxes for the rich and opposes a women's right to choose. Pascrell is challenging an ad from Rothman on the tax claim that features Pascrell saying, "Republicans had great ideas. I liked some of their ideas," during a 2010 Chris Matthews interview. The quotes were excerpted from a longer quote on health-care reform.
Rothman declined to discuss the specifics of the ad, but said it was citing a June 2000 vote Pascrell cast on ending estate taxes and a 2010 election survey. "Those are Bill's votes and no one has ever said that I am misstating those facts," Rothman said.
Pascrell said Rothman is not looking at his entire background.
"In 1996, I fought Newt Gingrich's chosen candidate and beat him. To compare me to these people is laughable," Pascrell said. "Bill Clinton would not endorse Bill Pascrell if I was not for the working poor."
Clinton has had success this year with other endorsements of candidates who backed Hillary Clinton's 2008 run for president.
Rothman was an early supporter of Obama and the highest ranking backer from New Jersey in 2008. He has Axelrod's support, but on Tuesday found out that Mark Alexander, who led Obama's 2008 New Jersey operation would be backing Pascrell in the primary.
The vitriol will continue in the race through the June 5 primary. "I did not set this tone, we are talking about outright lies," Pascrell said. "He took an excerpt out of an interview about health care and inserted it into an ad about millionaires and zillionaires. He will do anything and say anything to keep his job."
Rothman said it's about showing he's progressive.
"I was the only congressman from New Jersey to endorse Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination," Rothman said. "I was the first New Jersey congressman to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Those issues and others clearly demonstrate who is the more progressive Democrat in this race."