New Jersey 7th District
The transportation arteries beneath the First Watchung Mountain played a large role in New Jersey’s development. The rail lines of the late 19th century opened up commuter suburbs. In the 1940s, the four lanes of U.S. 22 made those communities readily accessible by car. And finally, Interstate 78, completed in the mid-1980s, put Newark only an hour’s distance from the Pennsylvania line. The interstate stimulated the development of an edge city called Bridgewater Commons halfway between Philadelphia and Manhattan. An enormous shopping mall and office developments, which included the headquarters of AT&T, rose up in the horse country around Far Hills and Bernardsville, where the likes of Malcolm Forbes and Charles Engelhard owned huge estates. (New Jersey claims more horses per square mile than any other state.) These towns are in Somerset County, with a median household income in 2007 of $97,658, the fourth highest among U.S. counties.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 7th Congressional District of New Jersey, with its contorted boundaries, covers these several generations of suburban development. It ranges across the breadth of the state, from the edge of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley in the west almost to Staten Island in the east. It is an agglomeration of places, not a district with a distinct character. The 7th includes parts of four counties, and parts of Edison, Woodbridge, Bridgewater, Linden and Union. Edison has become a cultural melting pot in recent years, with a majority nonwhite population; it is 36% Asian, 9% African-American and 7% Hispanic. The district’s easternmost points are in Union County, just shy of Newark International Airport. It includes Summit, Scotch Plains and North and South Plainfield, but not heavily Democratic Plainfield. It follows I-78 and the Watchung Mountains to western Somerset County. It takes in fast-growing Hunterdon County, where the county seat of Flemington was the site of the “trial of the century” for the kidnapping and murder of the 20-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh. There is, of course, a political imperative behind the weird shape of the district. It was designed as part of a bipartisan incumbent-protection plan, and it put heavily Democratic areas into the adjacent 12th, 6th and 10th Districts, while moving Republican areas formerly in those districts to the 7th. Republican President George W. Bush won comfortably here by 53%-47% in 2004, but in 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won, though by a much narrower margin, 1,968 votes. Obama got 49.7% to Republican John McCain’s 49.1%.