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Rumblings of discontent from district GOP counts on

Seniors at a meeting in Glen Rock, N.J., to explain benefits available to them. The town is in the fifth district, which first elected Republican Scott Garrett to Congress in 2002.Joe Tabacca for The Boston Globe

BELVIDERE, N.J. — John Wyckoff was set to welcome a group of important customers to his tree farm here earlier this week. Then he was informed that the White House usher and three others scheduled to choose a prized blue spruce to adorn the presidential residence this Christmas were not coming.

Adamant conservative Republicans, including Wyckoff's own representative, Scott Garrett, had dug in their heels and forced a government shutdown.

Wyckoff, 47, representing the seventh generation to work his family's 172-acre farm in this rural swath of corn fields and rolling hills, says he is no fan of President Obama's politics and is a longtime supporter of Garrett, one of the most unbending House members in the budget stalemate.


But Wyckoff said the battle Garrett and his allies are waging to defund the Affordable Care Act, a quest even conservative pundits have likened to a kamikaze mission, is looking petty and counterproductive.

"To see our country come to this, it is a shame," Wyckoff said outside his farmhouse on County Road 519 on Tuesday.

Across New Jersey's Fifth Congressional District — one of the most conservative in the Northeast — interviews with numerous voters show anger over the shutdown and growing dissatisfaction with Tea Party lawmakers, including Garrett, who participated in the founding moments of the Tea Party movement in 2009.

The backlash is part of a national trend in which the support for the Tea Party movement has waned even among its strongest base: conservative Republicans.

A Gallup poll in late September showed that Republican support for the Tea Party had dropped from 65 percent to 38 percent since the height of the movement in November 2010. Among independent voters, support dropped from 30 percent to 25 percent over the same period.

Democrats' largely dim view of the Tea Party movement has remained fairly constant, according to Gallup.


The trends may help explain why House Republican leaders have begun downplaying their demands to defund what they call "Obamacare'' and have begun seeking a compromise on raising the debt ceiling.

"I think it's hideous," Sidney Deutsch, 73, another Garrett supporter and proprietor of the Hotel Belvidere, said of the GOP's game plan so far. "They're beating a dead horse."

He, too, received a call late Monday canceling the four reservations the White House tree-picking party had made at the Victorian-style inn.

Deutsch has his own window into the debates taking place in the nation's capital: His son is the chief of staff to Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.

Garrett has enjoyed widespread popularity since he was first elected in 2002 from a district that hasn't elected a Democrat since the Great Depression in 1931. He has easily won reelection, even last year when 150,000 constituents were added from liberal northern New Jersey towns like Teaneck and Hackensack.

In 2012, voters in Warren and Sussex counties — which make up the bulk of Garrett's district — supported Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney over Obama 57 percent to 41 percent and 60 percent to 38 percent. Obama won the state.

Over the past decade Garrett has staked out conservative positions on social and fiscal issues.

One of his first votes in Congress was against extending unemployment benefits. As a member of the Budget Committee, he has also pushed hard to curtail federal spending; for example, he voted against providing federal aid to 9/11 rescue workers and relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina.


A self-described born-again Christian, the 54-year-old Garrett has more recently found common ground with members of Tea Party movement, who were ushered into the House in the Republican takeover in 2010 on a platform of reversing Obama's signature health care overhaul law.

In 2009, he met with supporters of the Tea Party movement who were demonstrating on the grounds of the US Capitol and lent his voice to the so-called birther movement demanding Obama produce a copy of his birth certificate.

"Even before the Tea Party was a thing, we had Scott Garrett," Erica Elliott, a former Garrett staffer who went to work for House majority whip Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, told the Bergen County Record last fall. "The rest of the caucus has caught up with him."

Garrett's press secretary, Adam Rice, did not respond to repeated e-mails and phone calls from the Globe seeking an interview with Garrett, or requests for comment.

Most Recently, Garrett has been couching his firm stance against funding the Affordable Care Act — and the decision to use it as leverage in deliberations over the nation's finances — in terms of what the people want.

"By an overwhelming majority, my constituents have made it clear that they are concerned with Obamacare and do not believe it is ready for prime time," he said in a statement earlier this month. "While President Obama has given waivers to his political backers, the American people are demanding fairness for all."


But while many of his constituents share Garrett's antipathy for the health care law, they have grown disenchanted with his tactics.

In the small downtown of Belvidere, the Warren County seat, many say they no longer see the point in holding everything else hostage to this one policy goal.

In George's Place, a bar on Greenwich Street where the inscription on one wall reads ". . . the only place, at the end of the world, down town Belvidere," a small crowd of working-class patrons aired a deep anti-establishment sentiment along with a heavy dose of vitriol for the president.

Steve Lake, 42, an unemployed father of three who says his house is now worth less than he owes on it, contended that the United States must substantially shrink the role of government.

"We used to rely on family and town and neighbors to take care of each other," he said. "Not the federal government."

Yet Lake, whose friends tease him for always talking politics, says he is also tired of the labels and what he considers the culprit of the government shutdown: partisan jockeying for its own sake.

"Put the personal aside and do what is best," he advises Congress.

The proprietor, George Triantafyllos, 67, said Congressman Garrett "is very popular around here."

Why? "He is very rigid."

Yet Trianafyllos says many here believe what he is currently trying to do "doesn't work for New Jersey."


Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBender.