Mikie Sherrill used blue wave to win House seat. Paul DeGroot hopes red one will unseat her

New Jersey's 11th Congressional District ran red for more than 30 years, with Dean Gallo and Rodney Frelinghuysen enjoying the Republican Party's dominance in Morris County to win by double digits every two years.

Former Navy helicopter pilot and federal Assistant Prosecutor Mikie Sherrill changed all that in the 2018 midterm elections when an anti-Donald Trump wave and a talent for fundraising helped to sweep her into office over the retiring Frelinghuysen's onetime perceived heir apparent, Assemblyman Jay Webber.

Former Passaic County Assistant Prosecutor Paul DeGroot wants to flip the district back to Republicans. Like Sherrill, the Montville resident was a political unknown before announcing his candidacy: His job prevented him from running for office or even endorsing other candidates.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) at a press conference with legislators and law-enforcement officials in Madison to announce she introduced a bill in Congress to fund new efforts to stop the rising rate of vehicle thefts in New Jersey and elsewhere.

The stakes

Sherrill has been championed by high-ranking party members as a possible future U.S. Senate candidate or for the governor's office in 2025. She defeated Rosemary Becchi in 2020 by 30,000 votes. Winning a third term in 2022 would cement her credentials as a political force destined for higher office.

She declined to discuss her future political ambitions beyond the next House term during an editorial board meeting with the USA TODAY Network, which endorsed her last week.

DeGroot has put his "outsider" status out front, telling voters he is "not for Republicans" or "against Democrats" and is not seeking an endorsement from Trump, while stating "Joe Biden is my president."

Elections coverage:Mikie Sherrill, Paul DeGroot call out 'lies' in debate for 11th Congressional District

"Career politicians got us into this mess — lawlessness, runaway spending causing record inflation and economic turmoil, and shortages of food and other basic items from grocery store shelves," DeGroot says on his website. "I’ll take on the career politicians to turn our country around.”

He did, however, receive an endorsement from Frelinghuysen, who has largely avoided public comment on politics since his retirement.

The issues

The Sherrill-DeGroot race reflects the national narratives of both parties in this year's midterm election, in which Republicans hope to regain control of the House and perhaps even the Senate.

Republicans are running on runaway inflation. Democrats are leading with opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision earlier this year, which favored the right for states to craft their own abortion laws, overturning the landmark 1970s Roe v. Wade decision establishing the federal right to abortion.

The candidates during their debates clashed most about abortion. DeGroot has taken issue with Sherrill's attack ads claiming he is against abortion without exception because he stands by the Dobbs decision, which he said "is clear."

"I don't want New Jersey to have Alabama laws and values, South Carolina laws and values, forced upon us, nor would I look to take Jersey values and laws and force them upon South Carolina or Alabama."

Sherrill is passionate about abortion rights and would favor nationwide protection of a woman's right to choose. DeGroot says he would "be comfortable with" abortions up to 20 weeks of pregnancy and further exceptions for cases of rape or incest or if the mother's health is threatened, and describes Sherrill's ads claiming otherwise as "disgusting."

Sherrill says you can't have it both ways — if you support the rights of states to criminalize abortion, you support those actions.

More:DeGroot, Sherrill clash over abortion restrictions as congressional race heats up

Sherrill also touts her accomplishments in Washington, with assignments on the House Committee on Armed Services, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and Committee on Labor and Education. She supported the Inflation Reduction Act and its funding for infrastructure while portraying herself as a moderate Democrat who has forged bipartisan bonds on Capitol Hill.

DeGroot said he is "a pragmatic conservative" and "independent thinker" whose career in law enforcement makes him the best candidate to fight crime. He has challenged Sherrill's record on several issues, especially failing in her promise to reverse the $10,000 state and local property tax (SALT) deduction cap implemented by Republicans in 2017.

Energy independence from foreign oil is DeGroot's key to fighting inflation and lowering costs throughout the supply chain. He faults Sherrill for "caving in" on the SALT cap, which hurts highly taxed property owners in New Jersey.

Sherrill says she twice got a SALT repeal through Congress, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate. She also said she helped to increase the percentage of federal tax dollars paid by New Jersey that are returned to the state, from 22% to 48%. Much of that came in the form of funds in the federal infrastructure bill to "put shovels in the ground" on the Gateway Tunnel and Portal Bridge projects, which Sherrill continues to see as top priorities.

Sherrill also accused DeGroot of being against the SALT deduction, pointing to an interview in which he said, "I'm not in favor of the federal government paying New Jersey's tax dollars."

DeGroot keeps the economy and inflation at the front of his pitch, repeatedly saying Sherrill supports and votes in favor of a failing progressive agenda led by Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Sherrill corrected DeGroot in one of three debates last month in which he claimed she voted for Pelosi as speaker in 2021, which she did not.

Why this year is different

Beyond the rise in Democratic voter registration, congressional redistricting last year favored Sherrill by eliminating portions of Republican-heavy Sussex County from the district while adding Democratic strongholds in Dover and elsewhere.

Voter registration over the past few years illustrates the GOP challenge.

In 2018, Republicans had a roughly 6,000-vote advantage, but by 2020 that flipped to Democrats' having 8,000 more voters. This year, after redistricting, the Democrat advantage grew dramatically to 221,742-159,109 among 601,799 registered voters.

The Cook Political Report now lists the 11th District as "Solid Democrat" for Sherrill, its highest category of predictive victory.

What towns are in the 11th District?

After the redistricting that followed the 2020 census, the redrawn 11th District covers these communities:

  • Morris — Boonton, Boonton Township, Butler, Chatham, Chatham Township, Denville, Dover, East Hanover, Florham Park, Hanover, Harding, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Lincoln Park, Madison, Mendham Township (partial), Montville, Morris Plains, Morris Township, Morristown, Mountain Lakes, Parsippany, Pequannock, Randolph, Riverdale, Rockaway, Rockaway Township, Victory Gardens.

  • Essex — Belleville, Bloomfield, Cedar Grove, Fairfield, Glen Ridge, Livingston, Maplewood, Millburn, Montclair (partial), North Caldwell, Nutley, Roseland, South Orange, West Caldwell.

  • Passaic — Little Falls, Totowa, Wayne (partial), Woodland Park.


Sherrill has raised $5.9 million during this campaign, with $1.5 million in cash on hand as of Oct. 19, according to the Federal Election Commission, while DeGroot has raised $661,000 with about $103,000.

Having a large amount of money does not guarantee a victory, but it allows candidates to have more advantages and more resources to run their campaigns, said Benjamin Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship.

“Having the resources to do whatever it is you want to do in the campaign, you allow yourself options; when you don’t have enough to put more ads or a billboard or more door knockers, you are always struggling,” said Dworkin. "It does not mean you can’t win by having less money, it just means that it is tougher.”

Jennifer Portorreal contributed to this article.

William Westhoven is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: wwesthoven@dailyrecord.com 

Twitter: @wwesthoven

This article originally appeared on Morristown Daily Record: NJ elections: Mikie Sherrill looks to fend off Paul DeGroot