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'Moral Courage and Conviction' Behind Primary Challenge to Rep. Josh Gottheimer—One of the Most Conservative House Democrats

Arati Kreibich says she is running because "our representatives should stand with people—not corporations."

Arati Kreibich is running against Rep. Joh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) in the 2020 primary.

Arati Kreibich is running against Rep. Joh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) in the 2020 primary. (Photo: courtesy Arati Kreibich campaign)

One of the most conservative members of the Democratic House caucus won't be running unopposed for re-election in the 2020 primary. 

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) will face off against political newcomer Arati Kreibich in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. In a statement announcing her run, Kreibich said that she was ready to take on Gottheimer, who, she pointed out, is one of the members of the caucus most friendly to President Donald Trump.

"He's got one of the most pro-Trump records of any House Democrat in Washington," said Kreibich of Gottheimer, "and when he comes home he refuses to explain his votes, hiding behind his position as a leader of the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus."

Gottheimer regularly stands in the way of progress, Kreibich said in her statement, another sign that he's not in tune with his constituents.

"He seems more interested in creating roadblocks for big solutions than solving the problems that make life so tough for families in New Jersey," said Kreibich. "But you don't get a nickname like 'the Human Fundraising Machine' without losing touch with the people."

That nickname, according to reporting from Splinter's Paul Blest, is based in some truth:

According to OpenSecrets, less than 2 percent of what Gottheimer has raised has come in the form of donations less than $200, and during the 2018 cycle he took $1.1 million from business-backed PACs. 

Kreibich moved to the U.S. at age 11 from India and got a doctorate in Neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania.

She hasn't sought higher office yet, but, as her campaign pointed out, she has been politically active for at least two years:

In 2017, she was elected to Glen Rock's Borough Council, becoming the first South Asian member in its history. During her tenure, Kreibich has earned a reputation as being a smart, effective council member who has improved the Borough's budget process while also spearheading environmental initiatives such as transitioning the town's residences to sustainable energy sources, organizing a Borough-wide litter clean-up and installing electric car-charging stations. Kreibich successfully gathered bipartisan support for her efforts, working to ensure both her Democratic and Republican council colleagues were on board.

As one of the party's leading moderate voices, Gottheimer has been in the news of late due to his work to quell the party's left-leaning tilt in the past six months.

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In May, as The Intercept's Ryan Grim reported, Gottheimer used his clout to spearhead an ultimately fruitless attempt to kill a bill against the war on Yemen—though unsuccessful, the intraparty drama showed that the New Jersey congressman could make waves (according to Grim's subsequent reporting, Gottheimer once allegedly attacked a car in a fit of rage). 

According to Grim, Gottheimer doesn't intend to let that failure send him packing. 

Gottheimer is showing no signs of receding into the background. In the first quarter of 2019, he raised an astounding $830,000, almost none of it from small donors, giving him some $5 million cash on hand. Aside from the campaign cash he rakes in from the pro-Israel and pro-Saudi lobbies, he cultivates Wall Street openly. 

A constituent of Gottheimer's told Grim in May that she hoped to see someone step up to take on the incumbent. Local Indivisible steering committee member Madeline Trimble said that members of her group "just want him to meet us halfway and act like a normal Democrat who believes in the party."

"Many of our members actively supported Josh Gottheimer's re-election efforts because we believe in the Democratic Party platform," said Trimble. "Some of us are concerned that sometimes it seems like Congressman Gottheimer is working at odds with that platform."

Progressive group Roots Action in June called for Gottheimer to be primaried, placing the representative in its list of "Bad Blues." 

Roots Action was unsparing in its critique of Gottheimer's Democratic credentials:

In 2016, Gottheimer flipped a longtime GOP district in northern New Jersey. Since then—on a range of issues including the U.S.-backed Saudi war on Yemen and predatory banking practices—he has maneuvered to undermine efforts by progressive Democrats in the House. 

As Common Dreams reported in June, "ousting incumbents like those detailed in the report is an uphill battle," but for Roots Action, "that doesn't mean they're not fights worth undertaking."

In a video announcing her campaign, Kreibich put the daunting task to taking on Gottheimer in moral terms. 

"We need to have the moral courage and conviction to stand up for what is right and what is fair," said Kreibich. "Our representatives should stand with  people—not corporations."

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