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NJ primaries are Tuesday and 'anything can happen in a low

Sep 22, 2023

Published Jun 6, 2023


Published Jun 6, 2023


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Tuesday is primary Election Day in New Jersey, with polls opening at 6 a.m. for state and local elections in New Jersey, including all 40 state Senate seats and all 80 Assembly seats.

Legislative district boundaries were redrawn last year, leading to 26 open seats after many longtime lawmakers decided not to run in new districts. But many seats are uncontested and even more aren't competitive.

"This is generally a low-turnout election and anything can happen in a low turnout election," said Matthew Hale, political science professor at Seton Hall University. "So, if people don't vote, you never know who's going to show up."

Because the overwhelming majority of legislative districts are dominated by one of the major political parties, in most cases, the primary will determine who is likely to win the seat in November.

Tuesday is primary Election Day. Polls close at 8 p.m. Vote-by-mail ballots must be returned or postmarked by that time as well. Polling locations are here, and vote-by-mail dropbox locations are here.

In the last legislative general election, Ed Durr, a Republican delivery driver with very little campaign funding, shocked the political world in New Jersey when he unseated the most powerful Democrat in the state legislature, Senate President Steven Sweeney.

The 3rd Legislative District is in a rural area of South Jersey, and sprawls across Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland counties. Now Durr is facing a primary challenge there from his former running mate, Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer.

"Probably 30 to 35% of the Republican party is in lockstep with Donald Trump," Hale said. "So anytime that you can claim that you are the Trumpiest of the Trump, you may have a shot at getting 35% of the vote out of the gate, and that's a huge potential upside."

That could spell problems for Republicans in the general election. When Durr beat Sweeney in 2021, the district had been in Democratic hands for almost 20 years. And the South Jersey Democratic political machine run by George Norcross, while weaker than it's been in the past two decades, is expected to fight to regain those seats.

In the Democratic primary, Assemblyman John Burzichelli has the endorsement of the party machine for state senate. That gives him a leg up against the progressive reformer, Mario de Santis, a teacher.

The 3rd Legislative District has about 11,000 more Democrats than Republicans according to voter registration data. But even beyond the surprising 2021 win by Durr, the GOP has been making gains in South Jersey. U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (a former Democrat who switched parties in 2019, endorsing Trump), Sen. Mike Testa and 2021 gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli have all done well there.

Another primary battleground is next door, in the 4th Legislative District, which covers parts of Atlantic, Camden and Gloucester counties. The state Senate seat is open and the Republican primary is competitive.

Gloucester County Commissioner Nick DeSilvio is running for the state Senate with the backing of the Gloucester County GOP. He's the pro-Trump candidate, which could be a problem for Republicans if he wins, given how purple this district is.

The more moderate Chris Del Borrello, a former Washington Township councilman, is backed by the county Republican organizations in Atlantic and Camden counties. But he's been criticized because his family is linked to a business that sent strippers to bachelor parties.

The Democratic primary is uncontested, with Assemblyman Paul Moriarty running and set up to take on the Republican winner in November.

A couple of north Jersey Democratic primaries are contested. In the 27th Legislative District in parts of Essex and Passaic counties, two of New Jersey's longest-serving Democrats are facing off in a newly redrawn district that combined their turf.

State Sen. Dick Codey (D-West Orange) has the endorsement of the party, which confers preferential placement on the ballot. He also received a last-minute endorsement from Gov. Phil Murphy. He's facing State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) the longest-serving Black woman in the Senate. Both are popular and have been allies for many years.

A rare competitive race in the 28th Legislative District is also a byproduct of redistricting. Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-South Orange) is stepping down after she was moved into a district with Newark, Irvington and Maplewood.

The Democratic primary for the Assembly in that district has three candidates vying for the two seats. The Essex County Democratic Committee endorsed the one remaining incumbent, Cleopatra Tucker of Newark, and Garnet Hall, a longtime member of the Maplewood Democratic Committee. That put Hall and Tucker on the party-supported line. But another candidate, former Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee, is alone on his own line and is mounting a strong campaign, especially in his hometown and neighboring South Orange.

McGehee is making a political issue out of the party endorsement process and how primary ballots give preferential treatment to those candidates. Reformers in the state have a campaign to end the practice and the Working Families Alliance of New Jersey has filed a lawsuit against it.

The outcome of the McGehee race should help that fight either way. If McGehee wins, it will energize the reform efforts. If he loses, it could strengthen their legal case because viable candidates rarely run off the line, and a loss will add to the pool of people who have tried and lost.


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