N.J. Democrats poised for worst legislative losses in years

Republicans hold broad leads in 8th, 2nd Districts, with tight margins in 11th, 16th

By: - November 3, 2021 10:45 am

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney speaks to a colleague prior to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivering his budget address for fiscal year 2016 to the Legislature, February 24, 2015 at the Statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

This story was updated to reflect new tallies in the 16th Legislative District at 1:57 p.m.

New Jersey Democrats emerged bleary-eyed and on the cusp of their worst electoral defeat in years Wednesday morning after a larger-than-expected enthusiasm gap boosted Republican turnout and cut Democratic margins in most corners of the state.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) trails Edward Durr — a relative unknown who in pre-election reports said he raised about $10,000 and spent just hundreds of dollars in the run up to the election — 30,125 votes to 32,134. Sweeney’s campaign committee spent more than $1 million.

It’s not clear whether there are enough uncounted mail-in ballots to bridge that gap, though election officials will continue to accept ballots until Nov. 8 if they were postmarked by Election Day. Vote-by-mail ballots have broken heavily in Democrats’ favor in most counties.

The unexpected Republican advantage in Sweeney’s 3rd Legislative District means control of the state Senate is in play, though it still appears unlikely Republicans will win the five seats needed to tie control of the chamber. It appears Democrats will hold control of the Assembly.

Gov. Phil Murphy and former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli are still locked in a tight race for the governorship, with less than 2,000 votes separating Ciattarelli and Murphy, who holds a slight lead. There is a silver lining for Democrats: Many counties have not tallied all the mail-in ballots returned by Election Day, and those are likely to break heavily in Murphy’s favor, though it’s unclear how many remain.

New Jersey’s 21 counties have variously reported or not reported mail-in and early vote totals, and in some cases, mail ballot totals were inexplicably left out of tallies maintained by national race watchers.

Vince Polistina, a former Assemblyman, appears to have defeated Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic) for a full term in the 2nd District seat that Republican Chris Brown vacated for a post in the Murphy administration in July.

Polistina leads his opponent 30,312 to 27,740. That count includes all mail-in ballots that came in through Election Day but does not include any of the roughly 1,200 provisional ballots cast countywide. It’s not clear how many of the provisional ballots were cast in the 2nd District.

Polistina’s Assembly running mates, former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian (30,414) and former deputy attorney general Claire Swift (30,626), also appear to be too far ahead of Democrats Assemblyman John Armato (26,702) and Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick (25,750) to lose.

Guardian’s election, should it hold, would give the legislature its first openly-gay member since Reed Gusciora gave up his Assembly seat to become mayor of Trenton.

GOP candidates are ahead in the 8th District, though their margins are tighter.

Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (R-Burlington) leads state Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Burlington) 37,629 to 35,065. More than 3,000 ballots remain uncounted in Burlington. Addiego is a former Republican who switched parties in 2019.

Stanfield’s Assembly running mates, Brandon Umba (37,035) and Michael Torrissi (38,400) also appear to have built insurmountable leads over Democrats Mark Natale (33,422) and Allison Eckel (32,576).

In the 11th district, state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) trails newcomer Lori Annetta 31,754 to 31,264 with five election precincts not yet reporting results. Gopal may emerge the victor after roughly 15,000 uncounted mail-in ballots in Monmouth are added to tallies. It’s not clear how many of those ballots were cast in the district.

Gopal’s running mates, Assemblywoman Joann Downey (29,368) and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (29,177), appear to be headed out of the Legislature: They trail Republicans Marilyn Piperno (32,683) and Kim Eulner (32,542) by more than 3,000 votes each.

New tallies from Mercer County put Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex) 2,159 votes ahead of former Rep. Michael Pappas in the 16th District Senate race. Zwicker leads 36,853 to 34,694.

The district’s Assembly races remain tight. Assemblyman Roy Freiman (36,155) is in first, followed by Republican challenger , Vince Panico. Former Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer, Freiman’s running mate trails Panico by fewer than 200 votes, 34,776 to 34,903, while Joseph Lukac, a republican, has 34,273 votes.

It’s not clear how many uncounted mail-in ballots remain, nor is it clear whether such ballots have been counted in Middlesex County. Those votes, should they exist, are expected to break heavily for the district’s Democratic candidates.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.