With the 2023 New Jersey elections approaching fast, the 2021 elections have been used by most state analysts as the baseline for this years’ legislative races. With this in mind, I looked back at the 2017 and 2019 elections to see if there was strong correlation between the two years’ results. With the exception of the 1st district, the Senate races were only held in 2017, so the comparisons will be between the Assembly races. With some notable exceptions, Republicans generally saw modest improvement, likely due to 2017 being a year of backlash against unpopular Republican Governor Chris Christie and the Christie factor receding into the background by 2019.
You can find our current ratings for the 2023 elections in this article.
Top Races by District
The 2017 race in the 1st district was not a competitive one. Conservative Democratic State Sen. Jeff Van Drew had a strong local brand and won reelection by 20 points in 2013 despite Governor Christie’s landslide victory on the same ballot. Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno basically fought to a draw in this district at the Gubernatorial level, but Van Drew was able to win by a astromical 65-34 margin against Republican Mary Gruccio. Van Drew’s popularity helped his Assembly mates downballot, and the Democratic slate was able to combine 61% of the vote.
Two years later, legislative Democrats faced a much tougher challenge in the 1st district, a political battleground which narrowly voted for both Trump in 2016 and Murphy in 2017. Van Drew’s election to Congress in 2018 meant that Democrats had lost their standard bearer who they had relied on to carry the district for a decade. Assemblyman Robert Andrzejczak was appointed Senator and ran in the special election against Cumberland Republican County Chairman Mike Testa. Andrzejczak linked himself heavily to Van Drew’s legacy and presented himself as a conservative Democrat, and it seemed to be working. An October Stockton University poll showed a 14-point lead for the appointed incumbent. But election night turned out to be very different from expectations, with Testa scoring a stunningly large 7% win. Testa’s coattails also upset the Democratic Assembly slate, with both incumbents going down to Republicans Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan.
- 2017 Assembly Result: 60.9% D, 39.1% R
- 2019 Assembly Result: 53.3% R, 46.7% D
- Net Swing: R +28.4%
The Atlantic-based district, despite its Democratic leanings federally, has always been a political battleground at the legislative level. The retirement and subsequent death of Senator Jim Whelan (D) opened a competitive general election between appointed Senator Colin Bell (D) and Assemblyman Chris Brown (R). Brown rode on his popularity and reputation as a maverick to win by a 7-point margin over Bell, but his running mates weren’t able to share the glory. Murphy’s 17-point win in the district carried Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo and Buena Vista Township Committeeman John Armato to victory, combining a double-digit win over the Republican slate.
Without Murphy’s landslide at the top of the ticket, the 2nd returned to its competitive roots in 2019, with Republicans John Risley, Jr. and Philip Guenther running much more competitively than the Republican slate in 2017. But given the district’s Democratic lean and the fact that Trump was still President, Mazzeo and Armato were considered the favorites, and prevailed by a narrowed but relatively comfortable 4% margin.
- 2017 Assembly Result: 55.1% D, 42.9% R
- 2019 Assembly Result: 51.9% D, 48.1% R
- Net Swing: R +8.5%
Following Donald Trump’s South Jersey gains in 2016, Republicans believed that they could seriously mount an effort to defeat Senate President Steve Sweeney. Republican Fran Grenier took on the challenger role with backing from New Jersey Education Association, which spent north of $5 million in the race. Sweeney is no slouch, however, and his own outside PACs were able to easily surpass that amount in what became the most expensive race in NJ Legislative history. Despite the cash flow, this race wasn’t close: Sweeney won reelection by 18 points, and his Assembly mates won by similar margins.
The large margin from 2017 discouraged Republicans to mount a serious challenge against the Democratic slate in 2019. Without Sweeney on the ballot, Republican challengers Beth Sawyer and Edward Durr were able to narrow the gap, but Democratic Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro were still able to easily win reelection.
- 2017 Assembly Result: 59.5% D, 39.9% R
- 2019 Assembly Result: 55% D, 45% R
- Net Swing: R +9.6%
One of the more shocking results from the 2017 legislative elections was the closeness of the results in LD-08. Republican Senator Dawn Addiego, a moderate who had proved substantial crossover appeal in previous elections, only took 52% of the vote despite easily breaking 60% in 2013. The relative closeness of the race was attributed to Burlington County’s softening intimacy for downballot Republicans and the strong environment for Democrats in 2017. Assembly Republicans broke quite the sweat as well, with Democrat Joanne Schwartz only 341 votes away from defeating Republican Ryan Peters.
Democrats rightly smelled blood in the water and went all in for LD-08 in 2019; they were further boosted after Senator Addiego switched parties. Assemblyman Joe Howarth lost GOP party support after allegedly trying to following Addiego’s party-switching path, and he suffered a landslide primary defeat to Burlington County Sherriff Jean Stanfield. Stanfield proved a strong addition to the Republican ticket, and she finished first with 25.4% followed by Peters with 25.2%. Democrats Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale ended up falling short despite full party investment and help from spoiler candidate Tom Giangiulio Jr., who ran under the “MAGA Conservative” banner.
- 2017 Assembly Result: 50.1% R, 49.2% D
- 2019 Assembly Result: 50.6% R, 47.6% D
- Net Swing: R +2.1%
2017’s defining Democratic legislative victory came in the swingy 11th district. State Democrats first identified the 11th as winnable after their success in 2015, where Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey won upset victories over Republican incumbents Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande. The Senate race was still considered an uphill battle for Democrats, however, as State Sen. Jennifer Beck won her 2013 reelection by north of 20 percentage points. But Democrats landed a top-tier challenger in Monmouth Democratic County Chairman Vin Gopal, who proved an appealing candidate and strong fundraiser. In one of the most surprising results of the night, Gopal emerged victorious by 7%, exceeding Murphy’s margin in the district. The incumbent Democratic Assembly slate won reelection by a larger margin.
After the 2017 elections established LD-11 as a Democratic-leaning battleground district, Democrats were looking to solidify their position in 2019. Houghtaling and Downey both ran for reelection against Freehold BOE President Michael Amoroso and former Hugin staffer Matthew Woolley. Like most other Republican candidates in 2019, Amoroso and Wooley were able to improve compared to the 2017 result, but still fell well short and underperformed Guadagno’s showing in the district.
- 2017 Assembly Result: 55% D, 45% R
- 2019 Assembly Result: 53.2% D, 46.8% R
- Net Swing: R +3.6%
Republicans believed that they had a rare pickup opportunity in the 14th district, where Democratic Senator Linda Greenstein barely scraped by former Republican State Sen. Peter Inverso in 2013. GOP confidence in the district was further boosted after Hamilton Township Councilwoman Ileana Schirmer emerged as the Republican nominee. The state GOP believed that Schirmer, a Cuban immigrant who boasted a rare out-of-state endorsement from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, would prove to be a strong challenger against Greenstein. The political realities of 2017 quickly crashed on Republican dreams, however, as this Democratic-leaning seat was miles away from electing a Republican during the year of the Trump-Christie backlash. Greenstein won by her biggest margin yet, 56% to 44%.
Democratic Assemblymen Wayne DeAngelo and Dan Benson were not the main target of GOP efforts in the 14th, and won by an even greater margin than Greenstein. 2019 proved to be a breeze for the incumbent slate as they improved upon their already-impressive 2017 performance.
- 2017 Assembly Result: 59.6% D, 40.4% R
- 2019 Assembly Result: 60% D, 38.5% R
- Net Swing: D +2.2%
After the 2015 election, LD-16 was represented by a split delegation: Republican Senator Christopher Bateman, Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, and Democratic Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker. Already in a bad position in this Democratic-trending seat, GOP chances of holding their sole Assembly seat took a catastrophic hit after Ciattarelli retired to mount an unsuccessful bid for Governor. Former GOP Assemblywoman Donna Simon, who lost her seat by just 78 votes in 2015, attempted to fill the gap for Ciattarelli, but was defeated by former Prudential Financial executive Roy Freiman. Senator Bateman, known for his liberal stances on environmental issues, generated just enough crossover support to slip by Democratic challenger Laurie Poppe with 50.4% of the vote.
Without Bateman leading the ticket, GOP chances in 2019 were not as good as two years prior, despite the slightly better political environment. 2017 nominee Mark Caliguire and former Montgomery Mayor Christine Madrid ran against the incumbent slate but were soundly defeated, solidifying the 16th as a Democratic-leaning district.
- 2017 Assembly Result: 53.3% D, 46.7% R
- 2019 Assembly Result: 55% D, 45% R
- Net Swing: D +3.4%