No surprises but a few lessons emerged from the primary election results

Even though the primary election at the municipal level in Highland Park was a non-event of uncontested candidacies, some lessons did emerge. Highland Park Council member Matthew Hersh, on the ballot for a two-year unexpired term and endorsed by the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, a statewide progressive advocacy organization, said:

“The story of last year’s presidential election was the plight of the disaffected voter; the voter who just didn’t see an honest, civic way into the political process. We’ve been fortunate in Highland Park because people who want to get involved can and our voters totals showed that. While turnout was relatively depressed throughout the county, Highland Park turned out the vote in much higher percentages than other Middlesex County towns. More, we had higher voter totals than towns double our size. Highland Park is a model of civic engagement and our hope is that other towns see how it’s done here.”

“We live in a time when people demand access to government at all levels and  we won’t stand for anyone who serves as a bulwark against civic access. This upcoming gubernatorial election is critical in not only setting the policy course for the future, but also in how our candidates learn the lessons of past elections and show that the common voter is not interested in what’s best for the party leaders but what’s best for the people.”

Highland Park voters did face a contested election that of Democratic Middlesex County Freeholders, two, three-year seats. Incumbents Charles Tomaro and Leslie Koppel prevailed and were victorious, however, Atif Nazir and Catherine Hunt, running under the banner of the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats, did attract 9,595 and 10,820 votes respectively. They reflected the growing strength of the Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders inspired populist sentiment among the Middlesex County Democrats.

As noted in NJSpotlight’s coverage of the election, Democrat Phil Murphy, a 59-year-old former Goldman Sachs executive will square off this November against Republican Kim Guadagno, the 57-year-old Lt. Gov. to Chris Christie, in this year’s gubernatorial contest. The vote turned out to be an easy win for the regular county political organizations, as both Mr. Murphy and Ms. Guadagno were clear favorites of their respective political machines.

“The walk-away from this election is the importance of political parties in New Jersey,” said Brigid Harrison, professor of political science and law for Montclair State University. “Primary voters vote the line here.”

And that lines up with Harrison’s view that the most important factor in the race isn’t name recognition or money, but the support of county organizations. “Primary voters are loyal.” Noting that Ciattarelli won all the media endorsements, performed well in the debates, and ran a strong campaign, she said when it comes down to it, primary voters stick with their leadership.

Harrison also noted that this primary was a watershed event, both for some of the losing candidates and the state GOP. State Senator Ray Lesniak, the longest-serving legislator with nearly 40 years in office, will now exit the stage. It’s unclear what State Assemblyman John Wisniewski will do, as he too gave up his Assembly seat to run.

Jim Johnson is expected to launch a new campaign for some significant office, using his new name recognition to bolster his candidacy. Rumors are that he might face off against U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11). “He is one interesting nugget to come out of all this,” said Professor Harrison.




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