Editors Note: In the print version of The Whit, it says that Stephanie Green is the author of this article, however, the author is Nicholas Feldman, as it says online. We apologize for this mistake.
With less than two days until New Jersey begins to send out mail-in ballots to voters across the state, Democrats are eyeing a resounding victory in this year’s state election. Brent Johnson is a reporter for NJ Advance Media’s Statehouse Bureau who is covering the governorship and the state legislature.
While both parties are outwardly confident, this changes when the political reality is faced, especially for Republicans.
“Republicans are at their lowest levels in years,” Johnson said “and it’s likely going to stay that way. While there are a handful of Republican districts [in the statehouse], Democrats have a large advantage and that’s unlikely to change.”
Democrats have held majorities in both in the General Assembly and State Senate since 2004, and have had total control of government for all of that except for when Republican Governor Chris Christie, and have recently been able to increase their majorities to supermajorities, meaning that the party has complete and total control over all forms of state government. And Republicans have a rough road ahead of them towards recapturing the legislature according to Johnson.
“The past four years with the unpopularity of Donald Trump just has not helped them here in New Jersey,” Johnson said however, the governorship is a completely different animal for the party in terms of the general election. “Especially here in New Jersey, the party that a candidate is isn’t the end all be all. They have won the governorship before, and sometimes in a landslide. It’s not completely out of the range of possibilities.”
While the Republicans may continue to openly say to the press that they feel that they have a fighting chance at ousting Murphy from office, polling says otherwise. The most recent poll from Monmouth University, one of the best pollsters in the nation, has Murphy winning by on average 15 points, with their low range model showing a Murphy victory by 11 points. This matches up with Johnson’s prediction as well.
“I could see him [Phil Murphy] winning by about 11 points. For Republicans to win, I honestly don’t know. I mean this is an election where there is such a large groundswell of people who hate Murphy getting out to vote. But still, the numbers just aren’t there,” Johnson said. The upcoming debates, one of which will be hosted at Rowan, could play a factor though. “If Ciattarelli comes out swinging against Murphy that might close the gap by a few points, but again, it’s purely a numbers game.”
Johnson said that he and many other political reporters covering New Jersey politics have been surprised by how vitriolic the governor’s race has been and how much it has been dictated not by policy, but instead by culture war issues.
“It’s been a really heated race. Usually, at this point, you would see Governor’s races shift over to things such as property taxes, however, that still hasn’t happened yet,” Johnson said. ”But liberal and progressive vs conservative and Republican and has become the main focus in recent years. It’s really been surprising to have this race dictated by culture war issues.”
Johnson explained that this may be an effort by both campaigns to tie up their bases and get them out to vote in November, however, this presents a major problem for the Republican party: there are greater than 1 million more Democrats than Republicans in the state. Typically when a Republican runs for statewide office in New Jersey, they seek to portray themselves as a moderate due to the heavy Democratic presence, yet this still hasn’t occurred for Jack Ciattarelli and his campaign.
“All of us assumed that when Ciattarelli won the primary, we thought there would be a swing to the middle because he needed to appeal to a state that is more democratic, but that didn’t happen yet,” Johnson said.
Locally, the race in the Second Legislative District for state Senate will prove to be a close contest. Incumbent Republican Senator Chris Brown is facing a tough challenge from incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, which we may provide Democrats with a good chance to expand their lead in the upper chamber.
“Thats the district thats been purple for a while. And Mazzeo already has a name there. Incumbency means a lot in these local races. Voters may not know the policy or really who’s running, however when they look at the ballot and see a name they know, thats what they go for” Johnson said. He predicts that the election will be “a really tight race,” however he feels that “Mazzeo does hold a slight advantage.”
Regardless of the results in November, there will be a large amount of uncertainty in Trenton for both parties. Current Republican Assembly Leader John Bramnick is seeking (and will most likely win) Tom Kean Jr.’s Senate seat in the 21st district, creating a vacancy that may prove to be a battle for the future of the New Jersey Republican Party. The question is will the party follow other state Republican parties and move to the right (such as in Virginia), or will the party remain in the center?
“I’d think that the Republicans will have to stay more moderate. I just don’t think that you can be that right-wing here in New Jersey. Every time you’ve seen a right-wing candidate running, such as Hirsh Singh or even Gustafson in your [1st Congressional] district, you’ve seen them lose and lose handily,” Johnson said. “I don’t know who might become leader, but I think that they will be in the vein of Kean and Bramnick, rather than in the vein of someone like Singh.”
And while everything may seem peachy for the Democrats, Johnson says there will most likely be a power struggle for control of the party after the election, even if Murphy wins in a resounding victory. And this power struggle will most likely have a local player in the middle of it.
“The Democrats are going to look for a flag bearer after Murphy’s gone, and I know that State Senate President Sweeney really, really wants that job,” Johnson said. “Being the democrat’s nominee for governor in four years, he’s wanted that for years.”
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