GOP Congressman Haunted By Anti-Gay Comments Loses Re-Election In New Jersey

Rep. Scott Garrett was never able to move on from remarks he made in 2015.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) lost a significant amount of money from Wall Street donors after he made his remarks.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) lost a significant amount of money from Wall Street donors after he made his remarks.

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) lost his bid for an eighth term on Tuesday, unable to fully recover from the fallout of anti-marriage-equality comments he made last year. 

Garrett’s loss in New Jersey’s 5th District is a significant pickup for Democrats, who invested heavily in the race. Garrett will be succeeded by Democrat Josh Gottheimer, who has worked for Ford and Microsoft and was a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton.

Garrett did not immediately concede the race, saying he wanted the absentee ballots to be counted. 

“Election officials expect that the absentee ballots will not be tallied tonight and that there are upwards of 20,000 ballots outstanding,” he said in a statement. “A large number of provisional ballots have also been cast, and election officials tell us that those ballots may not be verified and tabulated for several days. The outcome of this race shouldn’t be called until these ballots can be counted.”

The lawmaker has been in hot water since Politico reported in 2015 that he told fellow Republicans in a closed-door meeting that he wouldn’t pay his dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee because the organization supported some gay candidates.

Garrett has since clarified that he doesn’t oppose gay people running for office, but he believes the GOP should not support candidates who back same-sex marriage. The remarks played into Gottheimer and Democrats’ larger narrative that Garrett, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, was too conservative for his New Jersey district. 

Garrett’s comments also cost him support from Wall Street donors, a major source of funding for his campaign. It was a considerable show of no confidence, since the congressman chairs a key House financial services subcommittee and firms would normally want to curry his favor. 

In the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, financial firms donated an average of $600,000 to Garrett’s campaign, NPR reported. This time, after his anti-gay comments, that amount dropped by half. BBVA Compass, Goldman Sachs and Capital One were some of the firms that stopped giving to Garrett

The Democratic House Majority PAC threw more than $1 million into the race to oust Garrett, one of their top targets for the cycle. Garrett received $145,000 from an anti-gay super PAC last month. 

Garrett notably received very little help from the Republican establishment he went after last year, with the Congressional Leadership Fund ― a super PAC with ties to GOP leadership ― not spending a penny to help him, even though he was one of their most endangered members. 

Overall, independent groups have put more than $3 million into the race, nearly all of it to help Gottheimer. 

For his own campaign, Gottheimer significantly outraised Garrett as well, pulling in nearly $4 million ― almost double what Garrett received. Gottheimer was a strong candidate for Democrats, able to draw on his ties to the Clinton donor network and tech circles for contributions. 

This piece has been updated with a statement from Garrett.

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