The Top Ten Reasons Why New Jersey’s Legislative District 1 Will Host the “Race to Watch” This 2013 Election Cycle
But the legislative races are important. Because the composition of the State House is going to have a big impact on the gubernatorial victor’s ability to govern.
And in this guy’s opinion, the legislative race to watch is going to once again be District 1, the southernmost and largest of all legislative districts, encompassing all of Cape May County, most of Cumberland County, and a very small part of Atlantic County. Senator Jeff Van Drew, Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam, all Democrats, won re-election in 2011. This race is one that Republican Tom Kean has ID’ed as having the potential to see the unseating of some Democratic incumbents.
I concur with Senator Kean for multiple reasons. Let’s take a look at why….
(1) 2011 Results
2011 saw District 1 go from a legislative district that was all of Republican Cape May County and part Democratic Cumberland County to all of Republican Cape May County and most of Democratic Cumberland County. In other words, the new District 1 was designed to give incumbents Van Drew, Albano and Milam an even bigger margin of victory.
That did not happen. Instead of providing a larger margin of victory, as expected, the new parts of Cumberland County provided the relatively narrow margin of victory.
In 2007, Van Drew, who has been very good at getting Republican Cape May County to vote for him, received over 4,000 more votes in Cape May County than his Republican opponent, where Republican registration suggested Van Drew should have received 4-6,000 less. In 2007 and 2009, Van Drew’s coattails delivered victory for Albano & Milam in Cape May County as well.
In 2011, Van Drew carried Cape May County by less than 100 votes, while Albano & Milam lost big time. In fact, Milam only won the total vote tally by 1,051 votes, the narrowest margin of victory for any incumbent in the state. And the incumbent ticket outspent their opponents by an over 5 to 1 margin. In fact, long time Save Jersey readers migh recall that Democrats scrambled to make an unplanned six-figure TV ad purchase in the district.
So what was designed to be the easiest elections of Van Drew, Albano and Milam’s careers turned out to be their closest call with defeat. And that transpired with the opposition suffering a huge spending disadvantage. And Matt Milam showed he was the weakest incumbent in the state. It doesn’t take a shark to smell the blood in the water.
(2) Van Drew’s Diminished Star Power
The secret to Democrats previous success in District 1 had been Jeff Van Drew.
Van Drew had this ability to get Republicans in Cape May County to vote for him in large numbers. It’s how he became Freeholder, an Assemblyman, and then a State Senator. And then used that star power to get Albano and Milam elected by wooing Republicans in Cape May. In fact, before the 2011 election, there was scuttlebutt that Van Drew would be tapped to challenge Congressman Frank LoBiondo. Then Van Drew saw his ability to attract Cape May County Republicans get cut in half.
As mentioned before, in 2007 Van Drew got over 4,000 more votes than his Republican opponent when, by the numbers, he should have gotten 4-6,000 less than his opponent in Cape May County. But in 2011,Van Drew’s advantage disappeared, as he basically tied his Republican opponent, David DeWeese, in Cape May County. This ended the talk of Van Drew running for Congress; in fact, Van Drew actually announced he would not run in the November election because he was too busy helping his daughter plan a June wedding. Right…
And in Cumberland County, while Van Drew beat his Republican opponent, something odd happened. The down ticket Assembly candidate on his ticket, Nelson Albano, recived more votes than Van Drew. So not only wasn’t he able to muster up votes from Republicans and provide coattails in Cape May County, but he had to ride someone else’s coattails in Democratic Cumberland County!
And unfortuneatly for Van Drew, he now has his own “YouTube” moment that I’m sure will make appearnences in the future. I’m referencing video of Van Drew blowing up while debating his opponent DeWeese, and DeWeese having to scold him to “calm down.” That was not the reaction of a man whose star is on the rise.
Van Drew’s star is not as bright as it once was, meaning he will be running from a weaker position this cycle than he has ever faced before.
(3) The “Blueing” of the Incumbent Ticket
Let’s face it: Van Drew, Albano & Milam were able to get themselves elected by (A) pointing out to the Democrats in Cumberland County that they were Democrats and then (B) telling the Republicans in Cape May that wasn’t really true. And to Van Drew’s credit, he has cast a few votes that went against his party, but only when it wouldn’t affect the outcome.
In fact, Van Drew has quite the reputation for casting the deciding “Yes” vote in committee so a Democratic bill can reach the floor but then voting “No” when it hits the floor. And Albano and Milam usually followed Van Drew’s lead. This gave the ticket the image of being moderate Democrats who like bipartisanship. However, after 2011, the image of the ticket has been “blued”, as the three men more closely embrace their Democratic roots.
Part of this “blueing” is due to an effective campaign in 2011 to highlight Van Drew’s ties to his own party. This included a TV commercial which not only tied him to Jon Corzine and Jim McGreevey but featured Van Drew pounded a podium and announcing that he is proud to be a Democrat.
There has also been a lack of bipartisanship which the Van Drew team has always incorporated into its branding. Van Drew sided with his party when Chris Christie tried to lower income taxes. In fact, part of Chris Christie’s “Democrats did not support tax decreases” tour was held in Van Drew’s district! Pretty much the only time he went against his party was on the gay marriage vote, and that went quietly unnoticed as Dems were too busy pointing a finger at Christie.
By doing this, the Van Drew ticket is quietly announcing that their new campaign strategy is to hope to win Democratic Cumberland County by a wide enough margin to negate any GOP backlash in Cape May County.
This is not a 100% fool-proof move and leaves the ticket vulernable.
(4) Arrogant Albano
The Cape May GOP has already launched an online petition titled “Arrogant Albano” calling on the Assemblyman to resign over his shameful conduct during a Winter 2012 traffic stop.
Rest assured as we get closer to November, folks, the Cape May GOP will have some more clever tricks up their sleeve on this issue. My money is on them encouraging supporters to issue Albano homemade speeding tickets at events.
Oh, and I wonder how this will affect PBA endorsements this cycle?
(5) Matt Milam
No incumbent Democrat lost a seat in 2011. Most cruised to victory. Milam won re-election by only 1,051 votes, while his two running mates crusied to victory. He did zero fundraising in 2011 because he’s not a fundraiser. And in 2011, when asked what his greatest accomplishment in the Assembly was, he said it was being re-elected to the Assembly.
Can’t fundraise, has no accomplishments, and had the worst election showing in the state of any Democrat. If the GOP doesn’t think this guy meets the definition of “vulnerable,” then they need a new dictionary.
(6) Who is the Head of the Ticket?
Good question. Van Drew can’t deliver Republicans in Cape May County or Democrats in Cumberland County anymore. Albano delivered big in Cumberland, but lost in Cape May, and has his speeding ticket issue to tackle. And Milam’s biggest accomplishment was being re-elected by the smallest margin of any Democrat.
(7) Cape May County
The GOP in Cape May adopted aggressive tactics and built a strong grassroots network in 2011 under the leadership of Chairman Mike Donohue.
They turned an over 4,000 vote advantage into a statistical tie overnight. While statewide turnout was 26%; in Cape May County it was 37%. They did all of this despite being outspent 5 to 1. They also did this without coattails from a higher office to ride. They did this despite the state GOP sending almost all of its resources to Districts 2 and 37. In other words, they did this all by themselves with almost no money and almost no outside support. And they managed to win some local offices as well, turning all townships into the county red, including Jeff Van Drew’s own Dennis Township, and turned Middle Township red for the first time since the 1930s.
Now in 2013, that same organization will be here again. Only it will now have advantages.
They will get outside funding. They will get outside help. They will have Chris Christie at the top of the ticket. It won’t be David vs Goliath battle, it will be Goliath vs Goliath, a fair fight. And Donohue has been improving upon the grassroots network he built from the ground up in 2011, the biggest addition of which is the Cape May County Young Republicans, which the Cape May County Young Democrats have no counter to.
Need proof? As noted above, the Cape GOP has already started to go on the offensive against Albano. And I’d bet good money that Donohue is preparing to use the Beesley’s Point Bridge again, as Van Drew has broken all the promises he made about it during the 2011 campaign.
(8) Cumberland County
In 2010, during Congressional elections, Cumberland County went red as it gave control of its Freeholder board to the GOP. In 2011, it went blue for both state senate and the Assembly with no one at the top of the ticket. In 2012, with Obama at the top of the ticket, the county went for Democrats Obama and Senator Bob Menendez but also for Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo. So while it leans Democrat, Republicans can win there. It just isn’t easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is…
Now in 2013, you have Christie at the top of the ticket. He lost Cumberland County in 2009, but not by anywhere near the margins that Obama carried it in 2012. And in 2011, the Cumberland GOP put up a fight for the Assembly and the Senate, despite the financial advantage their opponents had. And this organization did manage to win county wide elections for Freeholders in 2010 in a traditionally blue county.
And the Cumberland County GOP doesn’t necessarily have to hand the GOP candidates a victory. If the name of the Van Drew Team’s game is to use a big Cumberland County victory to offset a Cape May County going back to a Republican candidate, then the all the Cumberland County GOP needs to do is eat into the margin of victory. Considering they have outright won countywide in recent years, that goal is well within reach.
(9) Ties to Steve Sweeney
Jeff Van Drew has strong ties to Senate President Steve Sweeney who is mulling a run for governor. If Sweeney enters that race, Van Drew will endorse him. No doubt about it. This will bad for Van Drew in shore towns, and there happens to be a lot of shore towns in his district.
Why is it bad? Steve Sweeney is leading the charge to ban shore towns that accept federal aid to issue beach tags, and instead have property taxes go up. In fact, Sweeney had the audacity to say that since he doesn’t pay to breath air he shouldn’t have to pay to sit on a beach. Towns recovering from Sandy are outraged at Sweeney over it. Furious. And if Van Drew endorsed Sweeney, Van Drew’s position on this issue won’t matter. Opponents will be able to put Sweeney’s words in Van Drew’s mouth. And that will cost him big time.
(10) – Chris Christie
I’ve saved the best for last, Save Jerseyans. Chris Christie will be on the ticket this year with some big coattails. Christie is popular. Very popular, in case you haven’t heard. And he has star power. And money. And he can bring that wherever he wants.
In 2011, his focus was mainly on Districts 2 and 37, as the smart money told him those were the close races. Well, the smart money also bet on Tom Brady beating Eli Manning in the Super Bowl. Twice. If it focuses on District 1 this cycle, and based upon his close relationship with Cape GOP Chair Donohue and where Christie chose to stop for a beer on his way to the RNC Convention, then I think it will, and it will change the dynamic of the race.
Not only will this bring resources to the race, it will take away Van Drew’s best Cape May County talking point.
In 2011, Van Drew emphasized how he had a good working relationship with Christie. He even whipped out a form letter the Governor sent to every member of the Assembly and Senate to prove his point (no one called him on it, by the way). No one, including Christie, challenged him on this point because the focus was on Districts 2 and 37. And if it was challenged, it would have been effective. Imagine the radio/TV spot of Chris Christie flat out saying “I wanted to lower your taxes. Jeff Van Drew did not help me lower your taxes.” Would have blown him out of the water!
Will it happen in 2013?
Well, Christie made two recent visits to Van Drew’s district, one in Ocean City that made national headlines and another in Wildwood. Go back and look at the pictures of those events. You know who you won’t see?
Jeff Van Drew.