Once passed off as a completely-uncompetitive off year contest, the Garden State’s latest gubernatorial battle has since drawn some merited attention. Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy is running for reelection against former Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli after beating Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno by 14 points four years ago. If Murphy is reelected next week, he will be the first sitting Democratic Governor to win a second term since Brendan “One Term” Byrne in 1972.
Originally from Massachusetts, the Governor amassed a large fortune over the course of a 23 year career at Goldman Sachs. He later served as Ambassador to Germany under the Obama Administration.
Murphy won the fractured Democratic primary in 2017 with extensive party support after Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Senate President Steve Sweeney opted not to run. Guadagno ran as a moderate focused on localizing the campaign, but struggled to deal with the unpopularity of outgoing Governor Chris Christie and President Trump. November coincided with an easy Murphy victory, bringing Drumthwacket back into Democratic hands after an eight year drought.
Somerville-native Jack Ciattarelli is an accountant by trade, but has an extensive public service record. From 2011 until 2018, he served as an Assemblyman from the 16th district. In the 2015 election, Ciattarelli was reelected while his Republican colleague Donna Simon finished third behind Democrat Andrew Zwicker.
Ciattarelli made his first statewide bid in 2017, challenging Guadagno for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. He picked up seven “county line” endorsements but trailed Guadagno in the polls and was significantly outspent. Guadagno won 47-31%, but Ciattarelli performed well in Hunterdon and Somerset counties, which formed the bulk of his legislative seat. On his second try this summer, Ciattarelli successfully locked up the nomination with near-unified party support.
Lieutenant Gubernatorial Nominees
Lieutenant Governor is a relatively new position in the state government, with voters establishing the office by public question in 2005. Guadagno, who served in the new role for eight years under Governor Christie, was the first individual elected to the office on a joint-ticket in 2009.
Ciattarelli rounded out the Republican ticket with a safe pick, selecting Diane Allen as his running mate. Allen represented the fairly-Democratic 7th Senate district for 20 years before retiring from her seat in 2017. Widely respected by members of both parties, the 73 year-old veteran of the state’s upper chamber brings extensive experience to the ticket.
Incumbent Democrat Sheila Oliver is on the ticket with Governor Murphy again this fall. An active figure in state politics, Oliver represented the 34th Assembly district for 14 years. At the height of her legislative career, she served as the Speaker of the Assembly.
Both Allen and Oliver met at Rider University earlier this month for a Lieutenant Gubernatorial debate hosted by David Wildstein of the New Jersey Globe, Micah Rasmussen of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, and Shenell McCloud of NJReady.
Debates and Campaign Issues
Murphy and Ciattarelli met twice on the debate stage and discussed similar issues on both occasions.
- COVID-19 – Governor Murphy began by addressing a question regarding nursing home deaths at the peak of the pandemic, saying an investigation would be conducted. Ciattarelli was pressured to clarify his stance on vaccinations, ultimately stating that while he personally supported the process and encouraged residents to get the shot, he would not back mandates.
- Taxation – Murphy defended progressive tax policies that he has championed over the last four years, including the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax” that the Governor claimed benefits the middle class. Ciattarelli, who has repeatedly lambasted Murphy on financial matters, took issue with high property taxes and characterized the status quo as harmful to average New Jerseyans.
- Trump – Republicans have focused on diffusing Democratic attempts to tie Ciattarelli to President Trump, often noting that the enigmatic former President is not on the ballot this year. Ciattarelli acknowledged that he had supported Trump’s reelection but noted that he disagreed with the ex-President on Jersey issues like off-shore drilling and Gateway Tunnel funding. Responding to a final question on whether he would campaign with Trump if offered, the GOP hopeful pointed out his commitment to winning the race on his own.
- Abortion – Both candidates are pro-choice, with Ciattarelli striking moderate tones common among state Republicans by stating that his administration would “codify” abortion rights if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Heavy backlash to recent Texas restrictions has brought the abortion question into the national spotlight over the last two months.
With interest in the race growing, there has been no dearth of polling to analyze. Summer numbers reflected a wholly-uncompetitive race, with the Governor leading by as much as 26 points in one Rutgers-Eagleton poll. Until September, Murphy hovered reliably around a 15 point lead similar to his 14 point margin in 2017.
October saw the race tighten, with an Emerson poll showing Murphy up 50-44 among likely voters. Shortly after, the “gold standard” Monmouth poll showed the Governor up by just 11. Recent releases by Stockton and Fairleigh Dickinson both pointed to a 9 point spread. As of this writing, the RCP average is Murphy +8.7 (51-42).
Conclusions – Likely Democratic (8-12% win)
So here we are at the end of yet another hard-fought campaign for Drumthwacket. Both candidates have made their cases to the voters, and tomorrow millions of New Jerseyans that have not yet voted will come out to select the next state executive.
We currently characterize the race as Likely Democratic, meaning we expect a comfortable Murphy victory. We expect a result somewhere between the polling realm of 8-12 points. There is a slim chance that the race could fall outside of either fence, but such an outcome would be rather surprising.
Since a Ciattarelli victory is highly unlikely, holding Murphy to a smaller than expected victory margin (<8) would be a good indicator of success for state Republicans. Despite his underdog status, Ciattarelli’s performance still matters. With ticket splitting widespread, the higher the topline Republican numbers are around the state, the easier it will be for down ballot Republicans to outrun the ex-Assemblyman in marquee legislative races.
Why is a Ciattarelli victory so unlikely? New Jersey is difficult state for the GOP to win at any level because of its inelasticity and unique political geography. For a Republican to achieve victory, he or she would have to attract support from a significant number of unaffiliated voters and wary Democrats. Polling has shown that Ciattarelli may be tapping into the Independent support he needs to make the race more competitive, but he remains disadvantaged by his lack of appeal to state Democrats.
Where would Ciattarelli win in a close race? The last Republican victory in a competitive election for Governor came in 2009, when Chris Christie ousted Jon Corzine; Christie’s landslide 2013 reelection was uncompetitive. There were two components to Christie’s victory: the mobilization of traditionally-Republican voters in shore (Monmouth & Ocean) and northwestern (Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon) counties and strong margins in key Morris, Somerset, Burlington, Atlantic, and Gloucester counties. This coalition allowed the former US Attorney to overwhelm the heavily-Democratic “spine” of the state running north from Mercer County to Bergen County to take a 49%-45% victory.
In 2017, Guadagno underperformed Republican benchmarks in the south, losing Atlantic, Gloucester, and Burlington handily. She did perform significantly better than President Trump in Somerset and Bergen counties, but still lost both.
For Ciattarelli to make the race close, he would need to hope for a lopsided GOP turnout advantage along the coast and in the northwest in order to “overwhelm the spine”. That possibility seems reasonable enough, but Ciattarelli seems less likely to replicate the second component of Christie’s victory by winning important counties that generally vote Democratic.
Since Governor Murphy performed exceptionally well down south in 2017, Republican numbers do not have much room to fall in counties like Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem, and Gloucester. While GOP wins in Burlington and Atlantic are unlikely, holding the Governor to single digits in either would be beneficial for Ciattarelli.
Given that Somerset County forms the bulk of his old legislative district, we expect Ciattarelli to perform much better than the average Republican here. Although the GOP’s down-ballot presence has evaporated in the county, some Democratic voters may not be afraid to revert in a region where ticket splitting is the tradition.
Biden-won Morris County is a must-win for the Republicans if there is to be a close race. It is Democratic-trending, but the GOP has fewer issues down the ballot and still controls the county government.
How would we know a big Democratic win is in the works? For Murphy, the paramount concern is turning out reliable party votes in the Democratic spine – Mercer, Middlesex, Union, Essex, Paterson, and Bergen counties. Nearing, meeting, or exceeding his South Jersey performance would be another auspicious sign of a double-digit Democratic win. If Murphy were somehow able to replicate President Biden’s performance in traditionally-Republican North Jersey, with or without hitting his previous southern margins, he could win by even more than last time.
To conclude this analysis, a prediction has been provided with county ratings. The prerequisites for both narrow and lopsided Democratic victories have been explored, and it seems safe to say that the actual result will lie somewhere in between.
We predict that Phil Murphy will become the first Democratic Governor of the Garden State since Brendan Byrne in 1977 to break “the curse” and win another four years. The current estimate aligns with a 54-44-2 victory.
Ciattarelli: Cape May, Salem, Ocean, Monmouth, Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex, Warren
Tossup: Gloucester, Somerset
Murphy: Atlantic, Cumberland, Camden, Burlington, Mercer, Middlesex, Union, Essex, Passaic, Bergen
Legislative Races: The Big Picture
If you include Polistina in the count, Democrats currently hold a 25-15 majority in the 40 seat Senate. The Democrats took an outright majority following 2003 elections and are unlikely to lose it anytime soon.
We project a net Democratic gain of one seat, with the party flipping the 2nd and 16th districts while losing the 8th district. If our electoral predictions hold up, Democrats will begin next year with a slightly-expanded post-election majority of 26-14.
With Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. vacating his seat to focus on his rematch against Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski next year, Steve Oroho is expected to take his place.
Assembly Democrats hold a 52-28 majority. The 80 seat lower chamber uses the same 40 districts as the Senate, but employs a multi-member system of election in which the top two finishers go to Trenton. There are currently no delegations with partisan splits, though such results have occurred in recent years (LD16, LD2, and LD1). We currently predict no flips in key races and expect Democrats to maintain their current majority.
With Minority Leader Jon Bramnick expected to win the open 21st Senate seat, Minority Whip Nancy Munoz appears to have enough support to become the leader of the Assembly Republicans next term.
The “Key” Districts (2, 8, 16, 21, 25, 39)
District 2 – Lean Democrat (flip) – Atlantic (part)
The Atlantic County-based 2nd is one of the most competitive seats in New Jersey this cycle. It has been partial to Democrats in recent years, but is not anathema to down-ballot Republicans. Like in much of New Jersey, ticket-splitting is still strong here. Governor Murphy won the district by 17 points four years ago, a much larger figure than President Biden’s 10 point win last year.
For two decades the 2nd was held by influential Republican Bill Gormley. When he left office in 2007, Democratic Assemblyman and ex-Atlantic City Mayor Jim Whelan flipped the seat. Whelan was reelected comfortably in 2011 and 2013. After Whelan’s death in 2017, Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown won the seat. Brown resigned earlier this year to take up a position in the Murphy Administration.
The candidates this year are Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo and former Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina. Polistina has already been appointed to fill Brown’s vacant seat in the upper chamber but has not been sworn in. He will eventually be seated, with the election outcome merely determining how long he gets to serve the district.
The recent NJ Globe debate between the two hopefuls focused on local issues including the state takeover of the local government, which both candidates continue to support. Mazzeo criticized Polistina for the ethics of his engineering firm. Polistina countered by calling out Mazzeo for an inept past debate performance. You can read more about the campaign here.
If heavy spending is any indication, both parties expect this race to come down to the wire. As one of two quintessential tossup races on this year’s legislative map, coming to a conclusion was not easy for us. We are moving the seat to Leans Democratic and projecting that Assemblyman Mazzeo will flip the 2nd back into Democratic hands.
Mazzeo’s 48%-41% lead in the latest Stockton poll was the primary basis for our pick. In both the 2nd and 8th districts, Democrats have dominated the independent expenditure battle. If those factors are unconvincing, remember that the district backed Biden by 12 points last year, making it fundamentally easier for a Democrat to win than a Republican.
At the end of the day, though, the race could go in either direction. Stockton, for instance, incorrectly showed Democratic Senator Bob Andrzejczak with a 14-point lead over challenger Mike Testa in a race he ended up losing by seven. There is ultimately some guesswork involved in electoral forecasting and Elections Daily remains committed to picking tossups no matter what.
What would be a good night for Polistina? Heavily-reduced Democratic margins in Atlantic City and Pleasantville coupled with Polistina victories in population-rich municipalities like Egg Harbor and Hamilton. If the results are more in line with the gubernatorial topline or Biden’s victory last year, Mazzeo should be on track to victory. Leans Democratic (flip).
In many respects, the 2nd’s recent Assembly races have been far more contested than its Senate contests. In 2013, Republican Chris Brown was reelected with 26.5% while his colleague John Amodeo lost as Democrat Vince Mazzeo secured second place by just 40 votes. The split delegation held until 2017, when Brown’s retirement allowed Democrat John Armato to lock up the second slot.
Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick has replaced Mazzeo on the Democratic side. The Republican slate includes former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and former state Deputy Attorney General Claire Swift.
Just like in the Senate race, we are predicting Democratic victory. The party considers Mazzeo a strong ticket leader, believing that a reliable performance on his end would benefit Fitzpatrick and Armato. The Stockton poll showed a tight spread, with Fitzpatrick in first with 24%, Armato tied with Swift at 23%, and Guardian in last with 22%. Given the district’s history, a split delegation is not out of the question. Leans Democratic.
Important Communities: Atlantic City, Pleasantville, Egg Harbor and Hamilton Townships (D)
District 8 – Lean Republican (flip) – Burlington (part), Camden (part), Atlantic (part)
The Burlington-based 8th is the other contender for the “most competitive seat of the cycle” award. Republicans have traditionally dominated electoral contests here, but Burlington County’s steady leftward tread has made the region more marginal in the Trump-era. The district backed Biden by seven points last year, but is still seen as somewhat friendlier ground for Republicans in down ballot races than the 2nd.
The incumbent Senator is Democrat Dawn Marie Addiego. A Republican until her switch in 2019, Addiego is standing for reelection in a seat that Democrats have not won since 1973. Running on the Republican side is Assemblywoman and former Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield.
Last week’s NJ Globe debate primarily focused on Senator Addiego’s decision to leave the GOP. Stanfield came out hard against the switch in her opening statement, saying it pushed her to run for the Assembly. The Senator fought back, claiming she could represent her constituents best as a Democrat. On mainstream issues of gun laws, abortion, LGBT marriage rights, and policing the two contenders seemed to agree more often than not. You can read more about the debate here.
Campaign committee leaders for both parties consider the 8th a must win. Organizational Republicans are particularly enthusiastic about beating Addiego as retribution for what they view as an unforgiven betrayal. The Democratic financial advantage here may have benefited Addiego thus far, but it is in no way a sign that Stanfield cannot win.
Handicapping the 8th has been a bloody battle between the ‘gut’ and the ‘mind’. We ultimately decided to go with our gut feeling and have moved the race from Tossup to Leans Republican, though the outcome here would probably be decided just as well by a coin flip.
If our gut thought pans out, we assume ticket-splitting would be strong enough to carry a well-known candidate like Stanfield over the line to add yet another victory to the Republican record of electoral success in the 8th. Gut thought also lends more importance to the Addiego party switch in terms of hardening Republican resolve and turning out the vote. A Stanfield win would probably look like a narrower version of Addiego’s 4 point victory over George Youngkin in 2017. Leans Republican (flip).
You can read more about the Senate race here.
Assembly elections in the 8th were unusually, but understandably, close during the Trump era. 2017 marked the most contested lower chamber race here in recent memory, with Republican Ryan Peters finishing 2nd by just less than one point. The Stanfield/Peters slate performed better in 2019, but another set of close results made clear that Republicans could no longer ignore Burlington County’s favorable Democratic trends.
Both Stanfield and Peters are vacating their seats this fall. Hammonton Councilman Michael Torrissi and Lumberton Township Administrator Brandon Umba are the new Republican candidates. Board of Education member Allison Eckel and Evesham Democratic Municipal Chairman Mark Natale make up the Democratic slate. Natale finished in fourth back in 2019.
In line with the Senate race, we are also moving the Assembly rating from Tossup to Leans Republican. A Democratic Assembly candidate has not broken through here since 1973, though the party has certainly come close in the last two cycles. Although the lower chamber race will likely track with the Senate topline, it is possible that Republicans could win one or both Assembly seats here while losing the Senate race. Leans Republican.
Important Communities: Evesham, Medford, and Hainesport Townships (D)
District 16 – Lean Democrat (flip) – Hunterdon (part), Somerset (part), Mercer (part), Middlesex (part)
The 16th is the most Democratic seat that Republicans are defending on the Senate map, clocking in at a whopping Biden +22. Each election cycle it has grown increasingly more Democratic at the federal level, with ticket-splitting allowing Republicans to outlast their welcome in down ballot races.
Republican Senator Kip Bateman is the last vestige of his blue district’s fading electoral past. Bateman comes from a well-established political family. His father Raymond served in both chambers of the legislature and was the GOP nominee for Governor in 1977. The younger Bateman entered the Assembly after the ’93 elections and was elected to the Senate in 2007. There he faced only one competitive race, beating Democrat Laurie Poppe by just one point in 2017. Bateman decided to retire this year, leaving the Senate GOP’s most vulnerable seat up for grabs.
Given how favorable the seat is for the Democrats on paper, it is hardly surprising that the party considers this open seat a prime opportunity to pad its Senate majority. The Democratic candidate here is Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker. Republicans nominated former Congressman Mike Pappas, who won the 12th district in 1996 but lost reelection two years later to Democrat Rush Holt after the “Twinkle, Twinkle Kenneth Starr” debacle.
We rate the 16th as Leans Democratic and project that Zwicker will flip the open seat blue on Tuesday. This district has never been off the board for state Republicans, and we are not saying Pappas cannot pull an upset, but Democrats have been favorites here for the entire campaign. The former Congressman will probably hold Zwicker to a single-digit win in a show of down-ballot Republican strength, but GOP chances simply do not look that great without Bateman on the ticket. Lean Democrat (flip).
Like the 11th, the 16th was once represented by two Republican Assemblypeople in the legislature. This was Gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli’s seat for his entire career in the lower chamber. In 2012 Donna Simon won a narrow Assembly special election against Democrat Marie Corfield, even as Mitt Romney lost the 16th to President Obama.
The very next year, Ciattarelli and Simon were reelected easily. In 2015, voters chose a split delegation. Ciattarelli finished first again, but Democrat Zwicker edged out Simon for second place. Since 2017, the seat has elected two Democratic Assemblymen.
Sadaf Jaffer is taking Zwicker’s spot on the Assembly slate to run with incumbent Roy Freiman. Republicans are running Joe Lukac and Vincent Panico. Democrats have not appeared threatened here and are expected to hold both Assembly seats. Likely Democratic.
Important Communities: Raritan Township (R), Somerville (D), Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships (D), Princeton (D), and South Brunswick Township (D)
District 21 – Lean Republican – Morris (part), Union (part), Somerset (part)
The 21st district has grown more favorable to Democrats at the federal level, but has consistently evaded them in down-ballot contests. At Biden +18, the seat is almost as blue as the nearby 16th. Yet Republicanism, probably owing to its proponents, has persevered here to a much greater extent.
For years the primarily Union-based district has been home to three Republican titans: Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, and Assembly Minority Whip Nancy Munoz.
The younger Kean hails from a Jersey political family that stretches back generations. Most of the goodwill surrounding the Kean name stems from his father, a popular former Governor who later chaired the 9/11 Commission. Kean Jr. was appointed to the upper chamber in 2003 and quickly rose through the leadership ladder. In 2020 he lost a bid against 7th district Congressman Tom Malinowski by a single point, but still managed to outrun Trump heavily across the seat. Despite a stable 2017 reelection, Kean is forgoing another legislative term to challenge Malinowski again next year.
Leader Bramnick, who has served in the Assembly for nearly two decades, is now making his jump to the upper chamber. The long-time legislator’s name is well-respected districtwide much like Kean’s. Bramnick’s breadth of experience and high name recognition have solidified his frontrunner status and should stimulate ticket-splitting on election day. His Democratic opponent is Roselle Park Mayor Joe Signorello. The district is certainly competitive, but Republicanism is not vanishing here anytime soon. Bramnick’s victory will probably be smaller than Kean’s in 2017, but his victory is expected nonetheless. Leans Republican.
The Assembly results should match the Senate outcome. Republicans staved off credible challenges here in 2017 and 2019. Munoz will be joined on the party’s lower chamber slate by Michele Matsikoudis. Democrats are fielding Elizabeth Graner and Anjali Mehrotra. Leans Republican.
Important Communities: Bernards and Warren Townships (D), Cranford, Westfield, Roselle Park, Springfield (D), Kenilworth (R)
District 25 – Likely Republican – Somerset (part), Morris (part)
The 25th is a traditionally Republican seat based almost entirely within Morris County. Last year showed the strength of down-ballot ticket-splitting for the GOP in all its glory, with interim Republican Senator Tony Bucco Jr. winning his special election by eight on the same night that President Biden carried the district by nine points. Bucco was preceded by his father, who held the Senate seat for 20 years before his death in 2019.
After last year’s exemplary performance, Bucco enters this reelection race as a decided favorite to win a full term. His Democratic opponent is Jeff Grayzel, the Mayor of Morris Township. Like Bramnick and Kean in the neighboring 21st, the Bucco name is well-known and well-regarded here. Seats like the 25th and 39th have not been at the top of this year’s Democratic target list, so Bucco should have an easy reelection barring any unforeseen changes to Morris County’s regional Republican strength. Likely Republican.
The district’s Assemblypeople are Republicans Brian Bergen and Aura Dunn. Dunn won her special election last year by a slightly narrower, but still respectable, 5 point margin. Both incumbents are favorites to win reelection on Tuesday. Patricia Veres and Lauren Barnett comprise the Democratic slate. Leans Republican.
Important Communities: Washington Township (R), Roxbury Township (R), Randolph Township (D), Denville Township (D), Morris Township (D), Morristown (D)
District 39 – Passaic (part), Bergen (part)
The 39th has been a relic of profuse north Bergen County Republicanism for decades. It backed President Biden by around five points last year, but broke for Guadagno in the last Gubernatorial race.
For forty years the territory was represented by Senator Gerald Cardinale. The veteran lawmaker faced his most competitive race in 2017, possibly a sign of changing times. After his death earlier this year, Assemblypeople Bob Auth and Holly Schepisi both sought the interim appointment. Schepisi, who had made her desire for the seat known before Cardinale’s death, ended up winning a close appointment vote.
Democrat Ruth Dugan is challenging Schepisi this fall, but seems unlikely to knock off the interim incumbent. In fact, Schepisi appears poised for a stable reelection in a district that Democrats have been unable to win for quite some time. The 39th is definitely more favorable to Democrats now than it was a decade ago, but 2021 does not seem like the year a Democrat will win here. Likely Republican.
Republican incumbents Bob Auth and DeAnne DeFuccio remain favorites for reelection in the Assembly contest. Karlito Almeda and Melinda Iannuzzi are running as Democrats. At both levels, the 39th simply has not been a top Democratic target this cycle. It is not out of reach, but Democratic success here would be surprising. Lean Republican.
Important Communities: Mahwah Township (D), Hillsdale (D), Old Tappan (R), Harrington Park (D), Washington Township (R)
Honorable Mentions (1, 3, 11, 14, 38)
District 1 – Cape May, Cumberland (part), Atlantic (part)
New Jersey’s southernmost district has strong Democratic roots down the ballot, but has become increasingly favorable to Republicans in recent years. Its traditions were most epitomized by Jeff Van Drew, who represented this territory in both legislative chambers as a conservative Democrat.
Following the long-time state lawmaker’s election to the US House in 2018, Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak took the helm as interim Senator. Republican Mike Testa defeated him by 7 points in the 2019 special election, a victory that coincided with Democratic Assemblymen R. Bruce Land and Matthew Milam losing their seats.
Democrat Yolanda Garcia-Balicki is running against Senator Testa this year, but remains an underdog. An October Stockton poll showed the incumbent ahead by 13 points (49%-36%). The Murphy-Trump seat should be within reach for Democrats under the right circumstances, but the party has not seriously contested the district this cycle. Safe Republican.
Important Communities: Vineland (D), Millville (D), Ocean City (R), Middle & Lower Townships (R)
District 3 – Salem, Cumberland (Part), Gloucester (Part)
On paper the 3rd district should be one of the most competitive in New Jersey. The mostly Gloucester-based seat backed Trump by about 2 points in 2020 but broke for Governor Murphy by almost 9 four years ago. Like much of South Jersey, its Democratic strength is stronger down the ballot than it is federally.
The incumbent here is Steve Sweeney, the enigmatic Senate President. Despite being one of the more controversial figures in state politics, he has been electorally reliable. He has not faced a seriously competitive race since 2001. In 2017 he outran Murphy significantly, beating Republican Fran Grenier by almost 20 points despite the NJEA spending $5 million to defeat him.
This year he is facing Republican Edward Durr, a truck driver. The GOP has understandably shown little interest in contesting the seat again after it failed to put a dent in the Senate President four years ago. Back in July, Sweeney kicked off the campaign’s “outspending spree” by raising a whopping $750,000 in just one night. Even if Murphy falters here on Tuesday, we have no doubt that Sweeney will have another easy reelection. Likely Democratic.
Important Communities: Bridgeton City (D), Pittsgrove Township (R), Salem City (D), Carney’s Point Township (D), West Deptford and Woolwich Townships (D), and Paulsboro (D), Greenwich and East Greenwich Townships (R)
District 11 – Monmouth (part)
The 11th is located entirely within Monmouth County. Despite being drawn favorably for Republicans in the last redistricting cycle, the district has since fallen into Democratic hands. Governor Murphy carried the 11th by just three points against Monmouth-native Guadagno, with President Biden taking a more substantial 12 point victory last year.
The Senator here is Democrat Vin Gopal, a rising star within his party who unseated Republican incumbent Jennifer Beck in 2017. Once traditionally hospitable territory for the GOP, changing times have rendered Republican fortunes uncertain in a district that could now be classified as reliably Democratic. Republican candidates have not won here since the 2013 Assembly elections.
Lori Annetta, this cycle’s Republican nominee, has not truly threatened the well-funded incumbent and her party does not seem invested in winning. As such, we expect Gopal to be easily reelected. Some consider him a potential gubernatorial candidate for 2025. Likely Democratic.
Republican chances look similarly dim on the Assembly front. Republican Assemblywomen Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande were easily reelected under the new lines in 2013, but lost to Democrats Eric Houghtaling and JoAnn Downey two years later. Both Democrats have been twice reelected and are now seeking fourth terms. The Republican challengers are Kim Eulner and Marilyn Piperno. Likely Democratic.
Important Communities: Freehold and Colts Neck Townships (R), Long Branch (D), Asbury Park (D), Ocean and Neptune Townships (D)
District 14 – Mercer (part), Middlesex (part)
Straddling the border between two “spine” counties, the 14th is one of this cycle’s top Republican “reach seats”. The district was once GOP territory, but has fled the party’s grasp in the last decade. President Biden won here by 17 points last year, more than double Governor Murphy’s seven-point figure in 2017.
Since 2010, the 14th’s Senator has been Democrat Linda Greenstein. Prior to her election, she served a decade in the Assembly. In 2014 she made a bid for retiring Congressman Rush Holt’s seat but lost the primary to Bonnie Watson Coleman. Apart from a close race against former Senator Peter Inverso in 2013, Greenstein has been reelected easily. She remains a strong favorite against her current Republican opponent Adam Elias.
Most of the territory in the 14th is Democratic, but not overwhelmingly so. While this Trenton suburb-dominated district can be competitive for Republicans under the right circumstances, it has not shaped up that way this election. Much like Democrats with 1st, the state GOP has not devoted enough resources to the 14th this cycle to make it close. Expect Greenstein to win another easy reelection. Safe Democratic.
Important Communities: Hamilton, Monroe, and Plainsboro Townships (D)
District 38 – Bergen (part), Passaic (part)
Much like the 14th district, this mostly Bergen-based seat has reliably joined the Democratic fold in recent years. Among the districts mentioned in this article, the 38th had the smallest difference between its 2017 Gubernatorial and 2020 Presidential margins. Both Governor Murphy and President Biden carried it by a little over 13 points.
The incumbent Democrat here is Joe Lagana, a former Assemblyman who won a 2018 special election to succeed Democrat Robert Gordon. Republicans have not come close here since the Christie landslide in 2013, when Gordon held on by less than four points. Republican Richard Garcia is challenging Lagana this year.
While Garcia is a credible candidate on paper, he is unlikely to make his race close on Tuesday. Just like the in 3rd, 11th, and 14th districts, the Republican campaign in the 38th has not been encompassing enough to bring the race into the realm of competitivity. Safe Democratic.
Important Communities: Bergenfield (D), Lodi (D), Saddle Brook Township (R), Paramus (R)
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