The sudden departure of Rep. Rob Andrews, D-Camden, has left residents of New Jersey's 1st Congressional District without a voice in the House of Representatives for nearly a year.
On the plus side, it has given voters a rare chance to choose between two candidates who are not yet entrenched in Washington's toxic do-nothing culture. Seeking the seat Andrews vacated are two Beltway outsiders: Democrat Donald Norcross, an electrician, union official and state senator, and Republican Garry Cobb, a retired professional football player and sports commentator.
Norcross is the clear choice. He has racked up an impressive record during his relatively short time in Trenton. He is an effective communicator and his vision for the country is a better fit for the district, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 200,000 to 70,000 and the last Republican to hold the seat was ousted in 1974.
While both candidates agree the most pressing issue is job creation, Norcross' experience in the labor and political realms gives him a real advantage. As an assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, he has seen the toll the weak economic recovery has taken on South Jersey workers and their families. As a state senator, he has pushed legislation aimed at persuading businesses to invest in South Jersey — including the Economic Opportunity Act — as well as measures to help workers and job applicants, such as the Opportunity to Compete Act, better known as the ban-the-box law.
What will you be able to accomplish in D.C. that you couldn't do in Trenton?
In his five years on the job, Norcross has become one of the Legislature's most productive members. He's shepherded successful bills on such substantive issues as economic development, higher education and public safety. And though the Norcross name is synonymous with the Democratic Party in South Jersey, he's proven he can work with Republicans, most notably on the bail reform effort championed by Gov. Chris Christie.
A common criticism of the Norcross campaign has been that he's been treated like an incumbent. And there's truth to that. As the brother of George E. Norcross III, one of the most powerful people in the state, he was able to line up support before Andrews had even confirmed his retirement. But Norcross hasn't taken the election for granted. He has worked hard to win praise from a broad coalition of voters, from college students to seniors, while continuing to bring attention to his work.
Who in Congress do you consider an influence and talk about ideas you support that have crossed party lines.
In contrast, Cobb's strategy has been playing to his base — sports-talk and right-wing radio shows — while avoiding giving substantive answers. Groups like the AARP have had trouble pinning him down on the issues, and his campaign ignored repeated requests to meet with the Courier-Post editorial board until after a deadline. Whether that was a deliberate attempt to duck questioning or the blunder of a disorganized campaign, it doesn't reflect well on him.
But Norcross hasn't won our endorsement by default. Cobb seems to be just another right-wing candidate eager to say what he's against — the minimum wage, the IRS, the Affordable Care Act, public school — without advancing any real solutions. It's clear he has a deep distrust of government, but he hasn't made a case for how he'll improve that once he's part of it.
Donald Norcross is also good at seeing problems, but he has proven he is willing to work with people — even those across the aisle — to address them. That's the kind of person we need to help dig Washington out of its partisan rut. On Nov. 4, 1st Congressional District voters should send Norcross to Washington.