With the filing deadline past and ballot lines given, the state of New Jersey’s legislative races have changed significantly since we first visited them in February. Underdog campaigns have emerged from the ashes and new recruits have reshaped the races. The set of rating changes for this update are as follows:
- SD-03: Likely Republican to Leans Republican
- AD-03 (1 seat): Likely Republican to Leans Republican
- SD-04: Leans Democratic to Tossup
- AD-36 (1 seat): Likely Democratic to Solid Democratic
- AD-40 (1 seat): Likely Republican to Solid Republican
South Jersey Emerges as Key Legislative Battleground
LD-04: The biggest change in this update undoubtedly comes from the 4th legislative district, where moderate State Sen. Fred Madden (D) is vacating his Ciattarelli+5 seat. This immediately moves the Senate race to a Tossup, but Democrats do have a distinguished name running in Madden’s place: 9-term State Assemblyman Paul Moriarty.
The 4th is also home to what is shaping up to be one of the most contested GOP primary fights in the state. Gloucester County Commissioner Nick DeSilvio looked like a shoo-in for the Senate nomination as recently as a month ago, but former Washington Township councilman Chris DelBorrello’s insurgent campaign has put that status in serious jeopardy. DelBorrello has wrestled away the Atlantic and Camden county lines along with a favorable ballot position in Gloucester County, reversing the state of the race in less than three weeks. DeSilvio’s native Gloucester County, where he has party support despite losing out on Column A, will cast the most votes out of the three counties and is pivotal to DeSilvio’s path to the nomination.
LD-03: Senator Edward Durr, who once again surprised observers by easily dispatching convention challenges from Salem County Commissioner Mickey Ostrum, has party support in all three counties in the district. Durr’s new opponent is Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer, who was part of Ostrum’s ticket before he dropped out of the race. Despite Sawyer’s efforts to counter Durr’s organizational support (she actually got the more favorable ballot positions in Gloucester and Salem), it is unlikely that she’ll be able to actually win, especially as Durr is likely seen as an icon among Republican primary voters after toppling the invincible Steve Sweeney in 2021.
Democrats also have a primary here, although this race is less competitive than the Republican one. Former Assemblyman John Burzichelli is leading the establishment ticket consisting of Gloucester County Commissioner Heather Simmons and CEO Dave Bailey. Progressives are running a ticket of their own consisting of 2022 Congressional candidate Mario De Santis, 2018 Congressional candidate Tanzie Youngblood, and Robert Fitzpatrick. As evidenced by the losses of De Santis and Youngblood in their previous races, progressives usually have minimal success against the South Jersey Democratic machine, and there’s no evidence that they will this year against a popular former Assemblyman in Burzichelli.
Burzichelli is a strong Democratic recruit and will almost certainly draw investment from South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross. The more contentious Republican primary between Durr and Sawyer has the potential to divide the party, and both parties have identified this race as a competitive one; South Jersey Democrats in particular seem more interested in going after this seat than the more Democratic-friendly 2nd or 8th districts. In what is going to be the only Trump-won district to be drawing significant investment this cycle, we’re moving two of the three races in the district from Likely Republican to Leans Republican. Assemblywoman Bethanne McCarthy Patrick has the support of both the Durr and Sawyer factions and should stand the best chance of winning reelection. We’re keeping her Assembly seat as Likely Republican as a result.
Three Other Competitive Primary Fights Take Shape
LD-24 (R): The Sussex-based district was supposed to be home to a titanic primary fight between Assemblyman Parker Space and conservative firebrand Steve Lonegan, but Lonegan dropped out before the filing deadline, leaving Space as the GOP Senate nominee in this solidly Republican district. The Assembly primaries will still be settled at the ballot box. Sussex County Commissioner Dawn Fantasia and Chester Township Mayor Mike Inganamort face a strong challenge from Warren County Commissioner Jason Sarnoski and Lafayette Board of Education President Josh Aikens. Former congressional candidate Robert Kovic is also in the race but is considered a nonfactor. The Fantasia/Inganamort slate is aligned with Space, which gives them an advantageous position on the ballot. Sussex County is also the majority of the district, which means the battle between the two county commissioners is unlikely to end up favorably for the Warren County candidate. Still, Sussex County doesn’t have an organizational line and the Sarnoski/Aikens team is positioning themselves as the more conservative option in the most conservative legislative district in the state, meaning that there is still room for an upset.
LD-26 (R): Speaking of upsets, Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo was on the wrong side of one in 2022 when he lost party support for reelection to former Mendham Mayor Sarah Neibart. He then pulled one off when he defeated Neibart in the primary. Clearly, winning “off the line,” the term used in NJ politics when one wins a primary without the party line, has boosted Mastrangelo’s confidence in his electoral capabilities. He is now positioning himself as the conservative alternative to Deputy Minority Leader Joseph Pennacchio in the primary. However, there are reasons to believe that Mastrangelo is not going to have as much success this time around. The first and perhaps most important factor is incumbency. Mastrangelo was running in 2022 as an incumbent but running in this race as the challenger. He must successfully convince primary voters that Senator Pennacchio is insufficiently conservative despite having a solidly conservative record. Another important factor is district composition. Even if Mastrangelo does pull off a narrow win in Morris, ~20% of the Republican primary vote will come from Passaic County, where Pennacchio is expected to dominate. As fellow Morris Commissioner Tayfun Selen learned the hard way, winning the biggest county in the district by a small amount means little if you’re getting destroyed in the rest of the district. In short, Mastrangelo has his work cut out for him and will likely arrive to June’s primary as an underdog.
LD-27 (D): The solidly Democratic 27th district is home to the only double-bunking primary of the 2023 redistricting season, where former Gov./State Sen. Richard Codey will face State Sen. Nia Gill. Codey is the organizational favorite and is therefore also the primary favorite in this machine state, although Gill has won off-the-line before so she is not to be underestimated. Codey’s advantage can further be seen downballot, where he is running with Assemblyman John McKeon and Alixon Collazos-Gill, the wife of Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill. Senator Gill, on the other hand, is running with two political newcomers in educators Frank Kasper and Eve Robinson. An interesting third wheel candidacy comes from former Assemblyman Craig Stanley, who served in the legislature from 1996 to 2008. He’s running on his own, so Stanley is not expected to come close to winning a seat, but it can be interesting to see what type of impact he can have on the race.
An Update on Competitive General Election Districts
LD-02: Assemblyman Vince Polistina (2008-2012) was an unambiguous conservative. Senator Vince Polistina (2021-Present) is a leading maverick in the Senate Republican caucus. Polistina 2.0’s most notable break from GOP orthodoxy comes from his vote for Gov. Murphy’s 2023 budget, where his delegation was the only Republican delegation to vote in favor. This more centrist approach to governance has likely earned Polistina and his running mates votes in a district known for its independent streak; no party has had control over its full legislative delegation in the 15-year period between 2006 and 2021. Somewhat surprisingly, Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick is not leading the Democratic ticket and instead running for Assembly. The ticket leader is Pleasantville councilman Victor Carmona. The Democratic ticket of Carmona, Fitzpatrick, and veteran Alphonso Harrell has been applauded by observers for its diversity in a relatively diverse district, but they will need more than that in order for their slate to be considered to be at the same quality level as the incumbent Republican slate, which has been an effective governing group. This district remains Leans Republican.
LD-08: The open 8th is a split-ticket Biden-Ciattarelli district, which means it should be a top race on paper. But Democrats, at least for now, have not expressed much interest in going after former Burlington County freeholder Latham Tiver, a top official at the influential International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825. IUOE Local 825 is hellbent on getting one of their own into the Senate, which means loads of cash for Tiver’s campaign and helping dissuade Democrats who want to contest this race. Tiver and incumbent Republican Assemblymen Michael Torrissi, Jr. and Brandon Umba remain favored in the general election against a decent Democratic slate consisting of Evesham Councilwoman Heather Cooper, Chesterfield Democratic Municipal Chair Andrea Katz, and Hammonton Education Association President Anthony Angelozzi.
LD-11: The 11th is home to the only elected divided delegation in the state, which naturally means it will be hotly contested once again. Popular State Sen. Vin Gopal (D) faces a strong challenge from Republican businessman Steve Dnistrian, who has already demonstrated strong fundraising potential. Dnistrian is considered to be a stronger candidate than 2021 Republican nominee Lori Annetta, who received minimal outside support in what was considered to be an unwinnable race. The Assembly race pits Republican Assemblywomen Kim Eulner and Marilyn Piperno against Democratic challengers Margie Donlon and Luanne Peterpaul. Both Donlon and Peterpaul are credible challengers and they’ll have the beneficiary of being on the same ticket as Gopal. The Assembly races are thus both Toss-Ups despite the incumbency advantage being enjoyed by the Republican duo.
LD-14: With the minuscule opening in the 36th closing, the 14th district is now a must-win for the GOP in order to win either legislative chamber. While the state GOP has signaled that they will be investing in their slate led by 2021 Assembly candidate Patricia Johnson, the fundamentals in the district are against them. State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D) and her running mates all won by double-digit margins in 2021, and the partisan lean of this district got slightly bluer as a result of redistricting. While we’re leaving one Assembly race on the board as a hedge, the open seat vacated by Assemblyman Dan Benson sees Democrat Tennille McCoy as a substantial favorite to replace him.
LD-16: As expected from the beginning, the 16th will feature a rematch between State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D) and former US Rep. Michael Pappas (R). We don’t expect the rematch in this Democratic-trending district to be a favorable one for Republicans. State Rep. Roy Friedman (D) is in a similar position as Zwicker, although he’s expected to run behind the Senate ballot. Both races start at Likely Democratic. Republican hopes for a breakthrough in this district mostly rely on Clinton councilman Ross Traphagen’s proven ability to win races in Democratic-leaning turf. Democrat Mitchelle Drulis is the early favorite to fill Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer’s open seat. Leans Democratic.
LD-21: The 21st should be a top Democratic target on paper, as Biden won it by 17%. But Republican State Sen. Jon Bramnick’s proven electoral strength and popularity in the district have deterred top challengers from joining in. Matt Marino, who’s kinda a perennial candidate at this point having failed four campaigns in five years, is the Democratic Senate nominee. 2021 Assembly candidate Elizabeth Graner and Springfield councilman Chris Weber will challenge incumbent Republican Assemblywomen Nancy Munoz and Michele Matsikoudis. While the incumbent Republican slate doesn’t look like it’ll face a serious challenge from Democrats this cycle, the sheer partisan lean and unfavorable political trends in the district dissuade us from moving this district out of the Leans Republican category.
LD-25: Anthony M. Bucco, the likely incoming Senate Republican leader, has drawn a challenge from two-time legislative candidate Christine Clarke. While it’s possible that she may surprise us down the line, Clarke is not considered a top-tier candidate and Democrats are unlikely to invest in this district, despite Bucco’s (likely) new leadership status and the fact that Biden won the district by 6%. Bucco’s two running mates, Assemblyman Christian Barranco and Assemblywoman Aura Dunn should also be in a strong position against their Democratic challengers. All three races in this district are Likely Republican.
LD-36: Republicans are rerunning their 2021 slate in the 36th district, which just isn’t going to cut it against powerful Democratic incumbents Paul Sarlo, Gary Schaer, and Clinton Calabrese. The 2021 races all went by double-digit margins for the incumbent slate. Only the strongest of Republican candidates could have put this district onto the board, and that is clearly not what’s happening here. All three races are now off the board as Solid Democratic holds.
LD-38: Republicans set their sights on State Sen. Joseph Lagana (D) and his running mates after a closer-than-expected 2021 result, but their recruitment effort in this district suffered setback after setback. Paramus businesswoman Micheline Attieh ended up as the Republican nominee, and only time will tell how strong of a candidate she’ll end up being. The Assembly races are the same as we found them a month ago. Former Glen Rock GOP Chairman Barry Wilkes and school district counselor Gail Horton will challenge Assemblywoman Lisa Swain and Assemblyman Chris Tully.
LD-39: Senate Sen. Holly Schepisi (R) got her preferred candidate to fill retiring Assemblywoman DeAnne DeFuccio’s seat: Saddle River Councilman John Azzariti, who defeated perennial candidate Todd Caligure for the Bergen GOP organizational line. Democrats had suggested that they would sincerely invest in the 39th if Caligure won the nomination, but with Azzariti’s nomination, it seems less likely that this Biden +6 seat will be heavily contested. Former Westwood Councilwoman Jodi Murphy will be leading the uphill Democratic effort to flip the district.
LD-40: There are many Biden-won Republican-held legislative seats that won’t be all that competitive this year. The 40th spearheads this phenomenon, with all races in the district now found in the Solid Republican category. Despite narrowly voting for Joe Biden in 2020 and Congressional Democrats in 2022, the district has not voted for a Democratic legislative candidate since the creation of the 40-district legislative map in 1973. Incumbent legislators Kristin Corrado and Christopher DePhillips will be running on a ticket with Essex GOP Chairman Al Barlas following gains of Essex County townships during redistricting. Barlas, who served as the Republican co-chair of the legislative redistricting commission, is a solid recruit for the GOP. Democrats are running an all-woman ticket led by Hawthorne school board member Jennifer Ehrentraut, but this doesn’t look like a lineup that’ll be receiving significant getting party support in the general. Democrats needed a top-tier slate to overcome Corrado’s 61% share from 2021, and they don’t seem like they have that. Take the 40th off the board.