Election Picture in New Jersey
NJ Spotlight, COLLEEN O’DEA, SENIOR WRITER AND PROJECTS EDITOR | SEPTEMBER 6, 2023
Labor Day marks the start of election season, but with New Jersey Republicans eager to try to take back control of at least one of the houses of the Legislature for the first time in two decades, campaigning in some districts is well underway. Election Day is Nov. 7. In the 16th District in central Jersey, the Democratic ticket of Sen. Andrew Zwicker, Assemblyman Roy Freiman and Mitchelle Drulis sent out their first general election mailer before Labor Day, proclaiming they “fight for the issues that matter most to you and your family’s future.” They also slammed their Republican challengers — Mike Pappas, in a rematch against Zwicker, and Ross Traphagen and Grace Zhang — for engaging in “extreme Trump-style politics.”
The races in the 16th District, which was made slightly friendlier terrain for Republicans by last year’s legislative redistricting, are likely to focus on many issues that candidates will be arguing in a handful of other hotly contested races this fall: parental rights, Trumpism, abortion and tax relief. To that list, particularly in districts like Monmouth County’s 11th along the Shore — which has split party representation — add the Murphy administration’s Energy Master Plan, with wind-power development off the coast, no new gas cars to be sold after 2035 and the Board of Public Utilities’ energy incentives, characterized by the GOP as a gas-stove ban.
“Legislative Democrats have been playing defense,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
Democrats are still stinging from the net loss of seven seats in 2021, including the shocking loss by then-Senate President Steve Sweeney and the assemblymen in the 3rd District. Republicans have been on offense when it comes to energy policy, from electric cars and stoves to the financial and coastal impacts of the wind industry. Republicans also think they have the Democrats on the run over the state’s lawsuits to stop parental notification policies in several school districts.
“Democrats have even been forced to distance themselves from the Biden administration’s identification of the FAA facility in Atlantic County as a potential site to move immigrants out of New York City,” Rasmussen added. “Democratic legislators could fairly argue that most of these are the policies of other parts of government, but that won’t stop Republicans from urging voters to send Governor Murphy and President Biden a message.”
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship, said Democrats won’t let the GOP continue to hammer away at them unchecked. “Now that we’re entering the real fall campaign, the Democratic campaigns are going to be much more actively engaged in the messaging,” he said.
Look beyond the numbers
While registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 1 million statewide and in three-quarters of the state’s 40 legislative districts, party leaders are worried about being vulnerable on some of the more controversial steps taken by the Murphy administration and they may have a right to be.
Democrats are still stinging from the net loss of seven seats in 2021, including the shocking loss by then-Senate President Steve Sweeney and the assemblymen in the 3rd District in the southwest, and Gov. Phil Murphy’s relatively small victory margin for election to a second term.
Talking about the elections
And despite their advantage in voter registration, Democrats in recent years have lost seats in three districts — Assembly seats in the 11th, as well as the 2nd and 3rd districts in South Jersey — and have been unable to take control in three others.
Turnout in years when the state Legislature tops balloting typically is low: In 2019, the last time the Senate and Assembly led the ticket, just 27% of those who were registered, voted.
Two recent Monmouth University polls indicate both parental rights and wind energy are issues that could help Republicans. The poll on parental rights found that more than three-quarters of people said schools should notify parents if their child wants to be identified as a different gender than is on their school registration, even as the state attorney general has gone to court to stop such notifications. READ MORE