New Jersey Democrats hold stark cash leads in competitive legislative districts

By: - October 18, 2023 4:36 pm

Democrats in the five of the state's most competitive legislative districts have handily outraised their opponents, and most have outside cash helping them. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

Democrats have outraised and outspent Republicans in each of the state’s most competitive districts, building sometimes chasmic funding gaps as they seek to retain majorities in both chambers of the Legislature in what has become the most expensive cycle in a decade and a half.

In the hotly contested 11th District in Monmouth County, Democrats have more cash remaining than their opponents have raised this cycle even after outspending the Republicans more than 7-to-1 in what is already one of the costliest races in state history.

And while independent spending groups with ties to Democratic legislative leadership have put millions behind incumbents in the 11th, 16th, and 38th districts, those same groups have entirely foregone investment in two competitive South Jersey districts, one Democrats want to hold and one they want to flip.

Even in those two districts — where the Democratic advantage is at its narrowest — Democratic slates have still managed to more than double their Republican opponents’ spending there.

Details about the candidates’ spending were released Wednesday and include campaign finance information up until Oct. 6. Election Day is Nov. 7, and all 120 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot.

In the 3rd District, Sen. Ed Durr (R-Gloucester) is seeking a second term against Democrat John Burzichelli, a former assemblyman. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

3rd District

In the 3rd District, Democrats are seeking to regain Senate and Assembly seats following the surprise 2021 ouster of former Sen. Steve Sweeney and his Assembly ticket. The Democratic candidates have spent close to three times as much as their opponents, and they had five times as much cash banked.

Democrats there have raised $726,296 and spent $380,279 since the start of the general election cycle. Between them, former Assemblyman John Burzichelli and his running mates — Heather Simmons, a Gloucester County commissioner, and Dave Bailey — had $754,982 in reserves at the end of the reporting period.

Sen. Ed Durr (R-Gloucester) and his running mates — Assemblywoman Bethanne McCarthy Patrick (R-Gloucester) and Hopewell Mayor Thomas Tedesco — ended the reporting period with just $150,459 in reserves, having spent $132,549 and raised a comparatively meager $258,417.

Chris Del Borrello, Matthew Walker, and Amanda Esposito are the Republicans seeking to flip the Democratic-held 4th District. (Courtesy of the Del Borrello campaign)

4th District

Democrats’ cash advantage is smaller in the 4th District — where the party controls all three seats — and outside cash backing the challengers leaves the Republican slate roughly even.

Though the GOP slate led by Chris Del Borrello spent just $363,513 between late June and early October — a little less than a third of the nearly $1.2 million spent by the Democratic slate led by Assemblyman Paul Moriarty — aid from an independent expenditure group with ties to the Operating Engineers Local 825 and the Republican State Leadership Committee more than bridges the gap.

Stronger Foundations Inc., the independent expenditure group, reported spending $858,170 on campaign material and ads dinging the Democratic slate. The statewide Republican Party made a $17,133 ad buy there.

Moriarty and his slate have a larger war chest — $262,688 to the Republicans’ $151,523 — and brought in twice as much as their opponents during the reporting period. The Democratic slate raised just over $1 million, while the Republicans brought in $495,676.

Republican Assemblywomen Kim Eulner, left, Marilyn Piperno are lagging in fundraising behind their Democratic challengers. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

11th District

The race in the 11th District — the only one in the state that elected lawmakers of different parties in 2021 — is already poised to be among the most expensive in state history, and the wide gulf between Democratic and Republican spending here is the largest in the state.

Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) and his running mates — Margie Donlon and Luanne Peterpaul — raised about $3.4 million and spent $3.5 million during the reporting period, leaving them with $709,207 in reserves.

The Democrats’ war chest alone dwarfs what their Republican opponents have raised in total. Assemblywomen Marilyn Piperno and Kim Eulner, both Monmouth Republicans, and Senate GOP candidate Steve Dnistrian raised just $460,339 between late June and early October. They spent $444,970 and had $232,069 banked at the end of the reporting period.

The Democrats also have an advantage in the 11th on outside funds.

Prosperity Rising NJ, an independent expenditure group tied to Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), reported spending $624,889 boosting the district’s Democrats.

Middle Ground, an independent expenditure group with ties to Middlesex County Democrats, put $807,592 behind Gopal and his running mates. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin is a Middlesex County Democrat.

Prosperity Rising NJ did not report making any independent expenditures in the 3rd or 4th districts in its latest filing. While the group put close to $1.5 million behind Democrats in the 11th, 16th, and 38th districts, it did not use any of its funds to boost South Jersey Democrats.

Middle Ground, like Prosperity Rising, limited its investments to the 11th, 16th, and 38th districts — and that strategy could come back to bite Democratic leaders if they return to Trenton with narrower majorities.

“I think it’s a mistake, and the reason I think it’s a mistake is because when I was working on campaigns in the Legislature, the last thing you wanted was to have people get to the Legislature that you had not lifted a finger for because then they don’t owe you anything,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.

Members who don’t get a boost from chamber leadership may withhold votes in leadership elections or on legislation, Rasmussen said.

Democratic candidates in South Jersey did get some aid from American Democratic Majority, an independent expenditure group with ties to Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, but the amounts were far smaller than those meted out by the groups linked to Scutari and Middlesex Democrats.

American Democratic Majority made independent expenditures worth between $10,000 and $42,302 in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 8th districts, though those investments are likely to grow before Election Day. The group had $450,521 in reserves on Oct. 6.

“Clearly there isn’t the same statewide organization and coordination of Democratic legislative campaigns that we’ve typically seen in past years, but that’s not unexpected given the severe regional rivalries that have popped up,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.

Democrat Sen. Andrew Zwicker and his running mates have a cash advantage over their Republican opponents in the 16th District. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

16th District

Democratic candidates have a similar but significantly narrower cash advantage in the 16th District, where Democrats are looking to hold seats they grabbed from Republican control as the party’s strength grew in Somerset County during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Between them, Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Somerset), and Mitchelle Drulis raised more than $1.8 million and spent over $1.9 million.

Their GOP challengers, former Rep. Michael Pappas, Ross Traphagen, and Grace Zhang, brought in $427,192 and spent $444,328 during the reporting period.

Democrats reported having $242,197 left in reserves on Oct. 6, more than four times the $56,331 the Republican challengers had.

Prosperity Rising NJ put $705,010 behind the district’s Democrats, and they got an additional $807,592 in independent expenditures from Middle Ground.

38th District

Democrats in Bergen County’s 38th District also held a broad cash advantage.

Sen. Joe Lagana (D-Bergen) and his running mates — Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-Bergen) and Assemblyman Chris Tully (D-Bergen) — raised $1.7 million and spent $1.9 million during the reporting period.

They had $596,474 in reserves on Oct. 6, more than twice as much money as their Republican opponents have raised in the general election cycle.

Republican Senate candidate Micheline Attieh and Assembly running mates Gail Horton and Barry Wilkes reported bringing in just $241,468 during the reporting period. They spent $244,998 and had just $89,721 left in their reserves.

The $128,000 Prosperity Rising NJ put behind the Democratic incumbents further expands the cash gap, as does the $47,438 Middle Ground put behind independent expenditures in the district.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.