Big-time conservatives to fight Democrats’ push to capture N.J. congressional seat at Trump midterm

WASHINGTON — Republicans are running one of the state Legislature’s most conservative lawmakers in the scrap to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen — a seat Democrats believe they can grab from the GOP in their national effort to ruin President Donald Trump’s midterms. 

Now Assemblyman Jay Webber’s congressional campaign is getting a boost from one of Washington’s leading conservative groups. 

Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the conservative policy group Heritage Foundation, has named him as one of the 12 House Republican candidates it would work to elect this fall.

Heritage Action said it would spent $2.5 million on behalf of nine incumbents and three challengers, including Webber R-Morris. The group said it has no plans to support any other candidates.

“We believe our organization is uniquely positioned to protect conservative seats in Congress and preserve the Republican majority,” Executive Director Tim Chapman said.

Republicans make Webber top priority

The group emphasized its support for the Republican tax bill, which singled out New Jersey and other high-tax states, most of which send billions of dollars more to Washington than they receive in services.

Webber supports the measure, while his Democratic opponent, former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill, has highlighted how the law’s cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes slaps high property tax New Jersey.

Studies have shown that the tax bill hits New Jersey more than any other state.

The decision by Heritage Action could help Webber close the financial gap with Sherrill in the 11th district race. She entered July with $2.9 million to spend, compared to his $171,720.

The two Washington-based publications that track congressional races, the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections, give Sherrill an edge.

In addition, Vice President Mike Pence is coming to north Jersey Friday to help raise money for Webber.

“I’m grateful for the support and glad to have the help spreading our message of lower taxes and economic opportunity that crosses party lines and makes America stronger, freer, and more prosperous,” Webber said.

“Looking at their criteria, picking candidates who are ‘in trouble’ and ‘need help,’ it’s no surprise that they want to shore up Assemblyman Webber’s campaign,” said Sherrill’s campaign manager, Mollie Binotto.

“His ideological agenda — support for a tax bill every north Jersey congressperson voted against, opposition to health care for those suffering from opioid addiction, opposition to equal pay for equal work — aligns much more closely with national groups like Heritage Action than with the values of New Jersey families,” she said.

Heritage Action has been influential on Capitol Hill by tracking lawmakers’ votes on key issues and opposing legislation that deviates from conservative positions. Four of its five highest-scoring members belong to the Freedom Caucus of the most conservative House Republicans.

It cheered the House Republicans’ refusal to pass a spending bill in September 2013 unless the measure cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act, which led to a government shutdown.

Heritage Action broke with Republican-leaning business organizations and supported the nomination of former Rep. Scott Garrett, R-5th Dist., to lead the Export-Import Bank.

Its list of endorsed candidates also includes Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., who has led the so-far unsuccessful fight to prevent the federal government from paying any share of the Gateway Tunnel project; and Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., who drew national attention when he ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in the 2014 Republican primary.

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant or on Facebook. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook. 

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