Holts a progressive voice in N.J.

Commentary

The race in central New Jersey’s relatively affluent 12th Congressional District is one of the more interesting races in the nation. The race pits two-term Congressman Rush Holt against the GOP candidate Reverend Buster Soaries, an African-American Baptist minister. Soaries, former Secretary of State in Christine Todd Whitman’s Republican administration, is seen by some as the 'liberal' face of the Republican party.

Holt, a physicist and the son of a former United States Senator from West Virginia, enjoys the support of the AFL-CIO, which has made his re-election a priority in New Jersey. He has also been endorsed by the Sierra Club, the New Jersey Environmental Federation, the League of Conservation Voters, women’s rights and abortion rights groups and Move On, a progressive political action group that uses the Internet in its organizing campaigns.

In a bow to the significant number of real and wannabe country club Republicans in his district, Holt has supported repeal of the estate tax, the 'marriage penalty tax' and a few other not-so-progressive pieces of legislation; he has been a militant defender of Social Security and has used his background as a scientist to champion health care reform and patients’ rights. He has also been the leading proponent in Congress for expanding and upgrading science and math education.

Given the social composition of the 12th CD, Holt has always faced an uphill battle. In 1998, he narrowly defeated a far-right Republican who distinguished himself by his opposition to abortion rights and his defense of Kenneth Starr with his 'Twinkle, twinkle little Starr' ode on the floor of Congress during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. The idiocy of the performance was turned to Holt’s advantage during the campaign.

In 2000, Holt faced an even stronger challenge from former Representative Dick Zimmer, a center-right Republican who had given up his congressional seat to run against Robert Torrecelli for the Senate in 1996.

Today Holt faces Soaries, who was a student at Livingston College of Rutgers University when I first came there in the 1970s. Although Soaries later became the popular pastor of a large working-class African American Baptist Church in New Brunswick, his parishioners did not join him in his dabbling in GOP politics or, for that matter, his support of Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Today, relatively few of them could afford to live in most of his new district. Rush Holt clearly represents a positive force in the Democratic Party nationally, something above and beyond machine Democrats and the 'lesser-of-two-evils' New Democrats of Bill Clinton.

Unfortunately, Carl Mayer, an unsuccessful candidate in a number of Democratic Party primaries against Holt, is running as a Green Party candidate in the 12th district. Whether he is running a genuine third party candidacy or merely trying to oust Holt in order to strengthen himself in the future in the Democratic Party, Mayer’s campaign makes no more sense for progressive voters than a vote for Buster Soaries to 'bore from within' the Republican party would for minority voters.

A victory for Holt would not only help the Democrats regain control of Congress, but would also keep in office a talented and dedicated Congressperson who represents the honest and healthy forces who are representative of the working-class, minority, and progressive voters, who are the great majority of Democratic voters in the nation.

The author can be reached at markowit@email.history.rutgers.edu