GOP wins give Democrats slimmest Assembly majority in nearly two decades

By: - November 15, 2021 4:59 pm

Republicans Marilyn Piperno, left, and Kim Eulner have won the 11th District Assembly race. (Courtesy of New Jerseyy GOP)

Democratic Assembly incumbents in the 11th Legislative District will lose re-election to two Republican challengers after provisional ballots did little to cut the GOP candidates’ narrow leads.

The result in that Monmouth County district — the final set of races to be decided since Election Day — means Democrats will go into the new legislative session in January with six fewer seats in the Assembly. The party’s majority in the Senate will fall by one.

Though the GOP lost the gubernatorial race — Republican Jack Ciattarelli conceded to Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday — Republicans hailed their legislative victories as a rejection of Murphy’s focus on progressive issues, charging voters were more concerned with New Jersey’s ever-rising cost of living.

“What voters considered as they went to the polls is that under one-party rule, they’re paying through the nose for property taxes on top of inflated costs for food, energy, and household goods,” said Alex Wilkes, spokeswoman for the Republican State Committee. “Not to mention voters aren’t happy with the way Murphy belittled so-called ‘kitchen table’ issues and undermined parents.”

Murphy on Monday denied that his party’s losses were driven by backlash to liberal policies enacted during his first term.

“I think if we had not put the policies in place over the past four years, we would’ve been washed away as well,” he said. “So, I don’t view it as a repudiation.”

In the 11th District, Republican Marilyn Piperno leads with 35,246 votes, followed by her running mate, Kim Eulner, with 35,088. Incumbent Assemblywoman Joann Downey has 34,734 votes — she trails Eulner by 354 — and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling is in last place, with 34,461. The district’s incumbent senator, Democrat Vin Gopal, defeated Republican challenger Lori Annetta by about 2,600 votes.

It is the third set of Assembly seats Republicans were able to capture from Democrats this year.

Assemblyman John Armato (D-Atlantic) and Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick were defeated by former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and former Deputy Attorney General Claire Swift in the 2nd District.

In the 3rd District, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) and Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (D-Gloucester) were swept out of office by the same turnout wave that saw Republican Ed Durr oust Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) in the biggest upset of the year. Republicans Beth Sawyer and Bethanne McCarthy-Patrick won the Assembly races there.

Democrats lost two seats in the upper chamber this year, both of them in South Jersey. Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Burlington), who swapped parties to become a Democrat in early 2019, lost re-election to Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (R-Burlington), a former longtime county sheriff.

When the next session begins on Jan. 11, Democrats will hold 24 seats in the Senate, their losses partially offset by a win in the 16th District, where Democratic Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker won retiring Republican Sen. Kip Batemen’s seat. Republicans will control 16 seats.

In the Assembly, Democrats will hold only 46 seats to the GOP’s 34. That represents the Democrats’ slimmest majority in the lower chamber since 2003, when they held just 44 seats in the chamber.

The narrower majorities will make it more difficult for Democrats to pass controversial legislation, particularly in the upper chamber, where three independent Democrats — Sens. Ron Rice (D-Essex), Nia Gill (D-Essex), and Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) — have at times shirked the entreaties of leadership.

Murphy, after defending on Monday his party’s performance at the polls, acknowledged some residents may harbor feelings toward the administration that are less than warm.

“I also would be remiss if I did not repeat the fact that while I’m proud of those policies, there are clearly a lot of people out there who are hurting for whatever reason,” he said.


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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.