Republicans Pick-up Seats in NJ Legislative Elections

As a result of yesterday’s elections, the Republicans will gain as many as four seats in the Assembly and one in the Senate for the 2020-2021 legislative session. Despite an expectation that Democrats would pick up a few seats, conventional wisdom that suggests the minority party generally gains seats in off-year elections prevailed.

While not all the races have been called, and some provisional and votes-by-mail ballots remain to be counted, the vote count from last night indicates that the Assembly will likely have 50 Democrats and 30 Republicans in the next session, shifting from the current 54-26 ratio but retaining a significant majority for the Democrats. The Senate makeup will be 25 Democrats to 15 Republicans vs its current 26-14.

The Democrats’ losses were in south Jersey, in District 1 in Cape May/Cumberland Counties and, should the results stand, in District 2 in Atlantic County. The Senate seat in District 1 flipped from Democrat to Republican, and at least two, possibly four, Assembly seats in the two districts appear to have followed suit. In the other competitive districts, the incumbents, or where there was a vacancy the incumbent party, held on.

A summary of the districts that we were watching closely follows below. The figures do not include vote-by-mail ballots that may have been mailed in the last day or two or provisional ballots, and in a few districts several precincts had not yet reported as of this writing, so a few of the outcomes could conceivably change in the coming days.

District 1, Cape May, Cumberland and some of Atlantic County

Incumbent Democrat Bob Andrzejczak who took the state Senate seat that Jeff Van Drew vacated to go to Congress, lost to Cumberland County Republican Chair Mike Testa. Testa ran on a pro-Trump platform, and in this conservative district Andrzejczak also ran right of a typical New Jersey Democrat, ruling out a 2020 vote for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren but not for Donald Trump. Tally: Testa 53.5%, Andrzejczak 46.5%. 

Testa’s victory was wide enough to carry in his Assembly running mates, Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan, defeating Democratic incumbents Bruce Land and Matt Milam. Milam, a former Assemblyman, had returned to the seat when Andrzejczak moved up to the Senate. Tally: Simonsen 27.2%, McClellan 26.1%, Land 23.6%, Milam 23.1%.

 District 2, Atlantic County

This district is currently split between Republican Senator Chris Brown and Democratic Assemblymen John Armato and Vince Mazzeo. Republicans Philip Guenther and John Risley held the lead after the votes were counted last night, but the Democrats have expressed confidence that the margins are close enough that vote by mail ballots could put them over the top to retain their seats. Tally: Guenther 26%, Risley 25.9%, Mazzeo 24.8%, Armato 23.3%.

 District 8, Burlington County

Incumbent Republican Ryan Peters and new running mate Sheriff Jean Stanfield edged out Democrats Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale. This district has become more blue over the years, and was seen as possibly attainable by the Democrats especially after its Republican Senator, Dawn Addiego, switched parties to become a Democrat. Stanfield replaced Joe Howarth who was dropped from the ticket when Republican party leaders thought he too was flirting with a party switch; he later lost in the primary. Tally: Stanfield 25.4%, Peters 25.3%, LaPlaca 24.2%, Natale 23.4%, Independent Giangiulio 1.8%.

 District 11, Monmouth County

Democrats held on in this once Republican stronghold now considered a “swing” district. Incumbents Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling beat back Michael Amoroso and Matt Woolley. Tally: Downey 26.6%, Houghtaling 26.5%, Amoroso 23.8%, Woolley 23.1%.

 District 16, Somerset and Mercer Counties

Incumbent Democrats Andrew Zwicker and Roy Freiman were expected to hold on in this competitive district, and they did so with fairly comfortable margins, defeating Republicans Mark Caliguire and Christine Madrid. Tally: Zwicker 27.8%, Freiman 26.6%, Caliguire 22.9%, Madrid 22.7%.

 District 21, Union County

This district is home to the minority leaders of both houses of the Legislature, Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (who was not up for election this year) and Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick. Bramnick and running mate Assemblywoman Nancy Foster Munoz were facing a serious challenge from Democrats Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacy Gunderman in this part of the state that last year helped Democrat Tom Malinowski oust five-term incumbent Republican Leonard Lance from its congressional seat in 2018. The incumbents, relatively centrist Republicans, also faced opposition from a pro-Trump slate running to their right, which in the end had almost no impact at all. Tally: Bramnick 26.3%, Munoz 25.7%, Mandelblatt 23.3%, Gunderman 22.7%, Marks 1%, Pappas 1%.

 District 25, Morris & Somerset Counties

In an unusual twist, this district saw a newly-seated state senator running for his just-vacated Assembly seat as a placeholder for a yet to be determined Assembly member-elect. After widely-admired Republican Senator Anthony R. Bucco passed away this fall, the local party chose his son, Republican Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco, to fill the Senate seat. Since it was effectively too late to change the ballot, the younger Bucco continued to run, along with newcomer Republican Brian Bergen. Bergen’s spot is currently held by Republican Michael Patrick Carroll who, rather than stand for re-election to the Assembly, ran unsuccessfully in the June primary for the Republican nomination for Morris County surrogate. Challengers Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Drager were seen to have a shot at winning, especially given the fact that Bucco was a placeholder though, in the end, they were unsuccessful. Tally: Bucco 27.2%, Bergen 25.9%, Bhimani 23.8%, Drager 23.1%.

Three Other Newcomers: 

Next year the Assembly will see three other newcomers each replacing someone from their own party who chose not to seek re-election: Democrat William (Bill) Moen (District 5, Camden/Gloucester Counties) who will take the place of Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones; Republican John Catalano (District 10, Ocean County) replacing Assemblyman David Wolfe; and Republican Gerard Scharfenberger (District 13 Monmouth County) replacing Assemblywoman Amy Handlin.

Leadership/Committee Assignments

While some changes in committee assignments are expected and one or two secondary leadership vacancies will need to be filled, it is all but certain the respective party caucuses will re-elect their current leadership.