By David Wildstein, December 22 2021 10:42 am
Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-Hamilton) told the New Jersey Globe that he will seek re-election to a 22nd term in Congress in the 4th district.
“We’re going to move, obviously,” said Smith. “I’m deeply saddened to lose Hamilton.”
Hamilton, Smith’s hometown, was moved into the 3rd district, which is represented by two-term Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown).
New towns that were added to the 4th, like Brick and Toms River, had been represented by Smith before they were removed in a previous redistricting.
Kim is well-positioned to win the newly-drawn district.
The Democratic map removed all of Ocean County from the 3rd that includes all of Burlington, except for Palmyra and Maple Shade, and parts of Mercer and Monmouth. Kim would add all of Hamilton, Lawrence, East Windsor, Hightstown, and Robbinsville in Mercer, and Allentown, Englishtown, Freehold Borough, Holmdel, Manalapan, Marlboro, Millstone, Roosevelt, and parts of Marlboro and Freehold Township.
This is the second time Smith was forced to move as a result of redistricting.
Smith was 25 when he challenged 12-term Rep. Frank Thompson, Jr. (D-Trenton), the chairman of the powerful House Administration Committee, in 1978. He lost by 24 points.
Undeterred, Smith ran again in 1980.
Thompson was implicated in the FBI sting operation known as Abscam, when an undercover agent pretending to be an Arab sheik offered the congressman a cash bribe to help him circumvent federal immigration laws.
This time, Smith won. He beat Thompson by 26,967 votes, a 47%-41% margin.
When Smith ran for a second term in 1982, he faced the strongest possible opponent: Joe Merlino, a 60-year-old, cigar chomping former State Senate President who saw going to Congress as sort of a consolation prize after losing a race for governor one year earlier.
The old 4th district was a middle-class, Democratic leaning district that included mostly Mercer and Middlesex counties, with small parts in Burlington and Monmouth. Jimmy Carter had won 54% in the old 4th in 1976, and Smith received just 38% when he ran against 12-term incumbent Frank Thompson in 1978. In 1980, after Thompson was indicted in the Abscam scandal, Smith won with 57%.
Back in the days when the Legislature drew congressional districts, Merlino had a heavy hand in redrawing the 4th to make it even more Democratic. The map was drawn during the lame-duck session of the 1981 Legislature, while Merlino was still Senate President. Democratic Gov. Brendan Byrne signed the map just before Republican Tom Kean succeeded him.
Smith’s hometown, Old Bridge, was dropped, along with other southern Middlesex towns that he had won. Instead, it went down the Delaware River through Burlington and picked up Pennsauken in Camden County.
Comparing apples to apples, the old 4th gave Reagan a 47%-44% win against Carter; Carter had beaten Reagan 47%-45% in the new district.
While Merlino was given the early edge, Smith worked hard — and fought hard.
One memorable Smith TV ad contrasted the Merlino image as an old-fashioned backroom politician. It had a lit cigar in an ashtray in a room full of smoke, along with voices of people saying they didn’t approve of “Boss Merlino” distorting Smith’s record. The ad then cut to an energetic Smith campaigning as other voices explained why they liked their congressman.
Merlino’s most unforgettable TV ad was shot in black-and-white as an imitation of the film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The ad shows a youthful vagabond hitchhiking as a voice-over attacks Smith. That was followed by the actor playing Smith getting kicked down the Capitol steps with the narrator urging voters to kick Smith out of Washington and replace him with Merlino.
Republicans got actor Jimmy Stewart who played Mr. Smith in the movie, to issue a statement slamming Merlino.
“When I played Mr. Smith in that picture, I did not think he was a naive hick,” Stewart said. “I thought he believed in honesty and integrity in government, the right of the people and the love of his country.”
Stewart applauded Smith’s record as a first-term congressman – “I hope you win,” he said – and Merlino pulled the ad that had clearly backfired.
Smith won that 1982 race by 10,002 votes, 53%-47%. He won Hamilton, where he moved so he could live within the boundaries of the new district, by about the same margin.
Since his first election, Smith has run under six different maps and has represented parts of Middlesex, Mercer, Burlington, Camden, Monmouth and Ocean counties in Congress.
In his most recent re-election against Democrat Stephanie Schmid, Smith won by 91,683 votes, 60%-38%.
Chris Smith will run in 4th district – New Jersey Globe