Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Nicholas Scutari speak to reporters during a briefing on Nov. 9, 2023, at the Statehouse in Trenton. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
Democratic legislative leaders celebrated their electoral gains during a Statehouse press conference Thursday, crediting the expanded Assembly majority they won Tuesday to their pitch on affordability issues in the face of a Republican focus on other issues.
New Jersey Democrats emerged from Election Day with a 51-29 majority in the Assembly, flipping four seats they lost in 2021 and a single seat in the deeply Republican 30th District. Their Senate majority remained static at 25-15 after they reclaimed a seat in the 3rd District and lost another in the 12th.
“In 2021, voters sent us a message. In 2023, they overwhelmingly embraced our response. In district after district, Democrats connected with voters on substance, not on irresponsible baloney that you hear from some of the members of the other side,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said.
Though Republicans paid some token attention to the state’s taxes and cost of living, their campaigns lent far more focus to other issues — like rules surrounding transgender children in schools — than they did to affordability this cycle.
Democrats, meanwhile, touted expanded property tax rebates available to elderly New Jerseyans under the Anchor property tax relief program and the still inactive StayNJ, which promises to cut seniors’ property tax bills in half, to a cap of $6,500.
Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) said those programs left Republicans little room to flank the majority party on fiscal issues.
“There was nothing that they could talk about because we had delivered what we had promised two years ago when we set out on this journey together, and that issue was off the table. People were happy with what we were trying to accomplish,” he said.
Democrats did highlight their own culture war issues on the campaign trail, with a heavy focus on abortion. And Scutari and Coughlin said the Democratic platform on guns — one that has included new restrictions on where firearms can be carried following the Bruen decision — and laws that capped out-of-pocket costs for some prescription drugs also resonated with voters.
They charged New Jersey voters repudiated Republicans culture-centric messaging in returning Democratic majorities to Trenton.
“We want them to make sure no vulnerable students are used as pawns in political games,” Coughlin said. “The people of New Jersey saw through that. The really kooky conspiracy theories may have generated clicks and chatter but didn’t meet the needs discussed at kitchen tables all over New Jersey.”
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