Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Last updated: Wednesday November 5, 2008, EST 1:26 AM
BY KAREN SUDOL, RICH COWEN AND TOM DAVIS
Republican Rep. Scott Garrett was elected to a fourth term in Congress today, beating back a stiff challenge from Democrat Dennis Shulman, after a heated campaign laced with character attacks.
With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Garrett had 56.8 percent of the vote, ahead of Shulman who had 42.1 percent.
Garrett, accompanied by his wife, Mary Ellen, grabbed a glass of champagne as he took to the podium at the Farmstead Golf and Country Club in Andover Township tonight.
Telling the crowd this was the toughest challenge he’d ever faced, even tougher than 2006, when Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives. Garrett said his win was a victory for conservative principles.
“From Day One, we fought for our principles,” Garrett told the cheering crowd. “We spoke the truth.”
On a night when many House Republicans were going down to defeat, Garrett pledged to continue to be a conservative voice in Washington.
“Although our numbers will be fewer, we will continue to stand for the principles of the free market, of capitalism, freedom, and freedom of religion,” Garrett said.
Had he won, Shulman would have become the first ordained rabbi in Congress and the first blind person elected to Congress since 1935.
In his concession speech to a crowd of about 200 at the IBEW Local 164’s Paramus headquarters, Shulman told the gathering “we ran a remarkable campaign.”
“This campaign was not about me,” he said. “It was not about Garrett. It was about America. It was about a war in Iraq that was ill-conceived.
“It was about a failure to establish an energy policy which was criminal,” he said, saying the Bush administration failed to provide alternatives. “On all of these issues — I understand we didn’t win — but we were right.”
“We didn’t win this election, but we were right,” he said.
In Andover, Rich Zeoli, Sussex County Republican party chair, told the crowd: “This has been a very tough race. But the margin of victory was 2-to-1 in Sussex County. So because of you, Scott Garrett has been reelected.”
Garrett, one of the most conservative members of the House, has focused largely on fiscal issues such as government waste. He opposed the Bush administration’s $700 billion economic rescue plan, while Shulman, a clinical psychologist from Demarest, said he would have supported it.
Shulman, who had said he would provide sensible mainstream leadership, faced an uphill battle in a district considered reliably Republican. Garrett, 50, handily defeated his Democratic opponents by 11 percentage points in 2006 and more than 16 percentage points in 2004.
But Shulman, 58, posed the greatest challenge to Garrett yet, especially in the weeks leading up to the election.
His campaign benefited from a growing discontent with President Bush’s administration and a presidential race in which polls favored Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, as well as an endorsement by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Shulman also remained competitive in fund raising: As of Monday, he had raised about $1 million for his election, while Garrett brought in $1.4 million. Shulman’s campaign received an $85,000 last-minute boost from his national party.
The race took on a progressively nastier note as the election neared. In an ad, Shulman accused Garrett of receiving a tax break from a Christmas tree farm operated by his brother and not disclosing it on his financial disclosure form.
Garrett, of Wantage, had said he receives no revenue from the farm’s operation or his brother; therefore, he is not required to disclose it on the statement.
Shulman also slammed Garrett for hiring a former mortgage company lobbyist as his chief of staff and accepting contributions from the financial industry that he regulates as a member of the House Financial Services Committee. Shulman had pledged not to accept contributions from any interest regulated by a committee on which he serves.
Garrett fired back with an ad accusing Shulman of being an extremist who would negotiate with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also said Shulman’s campaign manager had previously worked as a lobbyist for an immigration reform coalition whose members included ACORN, the group that helped fund voter registration drives in which fraudulent registrations have been submitted.
Garrett had also received last-minute endorsements from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes.
The district includes northern Bergen County, a portion of northern Passaic County, plus all of Sussex and Warren counties.