10 Big N.J. Election Night 2014 Races to Watch

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

Battle_of_Springfield_NJ_1780There are plenty of big races at the local level this year in New Jersey politics, Save Jerseyans, across all 21 counties, but I thought it’d be worth my time (and yours) to take a super-abbreviated look at some of the most consequential 2014 Garden State contests in terms of regional/statewide/national impact beginning in January 2015 and beyond:

(10) U.S. Senate Race Bell v. Booker

Cory Booker is going to win on Tuesday and it’s not really Jeff Bell’s fault; he’s a sharp guy who got into the GOP U.S. Senate primary to push his pet issue (the gold standard) in a race with the potential for national attention. Is his style a bit dated? Sure, but that’s the least of his problems.

He got into the race after the state GOP establishment declines to recruit a name candidate or self-funder. Bell has had substantive help from the state GOP establishment in recent months, it’s true, but given his lack of name recognition and a dearth of national help (of which there’s been none) this race was over before it began. The question, at this point, is one of margin. Does Cory win a decisive but not-quite-landslide-esque victory on Tuesday (low teens or high single digits)? Or does he ring Jeff’s bell, hurt down-ballot Republicans, and set himself up as a 2016 Vice Presidential prospect? And give us an open Senate race at some point in the not-too-distant future? Stay tuned…

(9) Fifth Congressional DistrictGarrett v. Cho

We’ll never know how well Democrats in NJ-03 and NJ-05 could’ve done with sustained outside support notwithstanding the harsh realities of a lean-GOP cycle. I don’t think there’s any real danger of Scott Garrett losing to challenger Roy Cho on Tuesday, Save Jerseyans, but since it’s only one of two New Jersey federal races to post a single-digit polling margin result in recent weeks, we’re obliged to watch and see how well Cho ultimately ends up performing.

(8) Second Congressional District LoBiondo v. Hughes

Chris Christie announcing his support for Frank LoBiondo's reelection campaign.
Chris Christie announcing his support for Frank LoBiondo’s reelection campaign.

I think Frank LoBiondo has this one well under wraps though, it’s worth noting, Bill Hughes Jr. enjoys residual name recognition from his father (Lobo’s predecessor) that may make this year’s contest the Republican incumbent’s closest victory in his 20-year House career. The real stories are down-ballot (we’ll discuss that a little bit more below).

For example… does Hughes carry (or over-perform) in his Cape May home base of Ocean City, a traditionally Republican town? And in Cape May County, do Republicans hold and gain ground in LD1-significant municipal races in Lower, Middle and Dennis townships?

(7Young Republicans at the Municipal Level Statewide!

I’ve written about two local municipal battles in particular – Rachael Brekke in Voorhees and Sean DiSomma in Red Bank – worth watching on Tuesday. There are others. Our friend Connor Montferrat, a former New Jersey College Republican chairman running in Hightstown, comes to mind. There’s also John Cascarano in Caldwell, who is running a race where the Republicans currently have control in a very competitive, but need to win to keep it. Expect that race to have a photo finish; the last few cycles saw Caldwell local seats decided be only a handful of votes, sometimes even with split tickets.

If we really get a “wave” of sorts on Tuesday, it’s the kind of once-every-several (at most) years kind of situation where candidates can win tight or even improbable races and parties build their benches for the future with hard-working young guns. The NJ GOP could see a few such prospects crop up on Tuesday night. Fingers crossed!

(6) Monmouth County Freeholder Board two seats (GOP defense)

Di Somma (far left) canvasses with Asw. Caroline Casagrande; Brekke (far right) distributes literature with a volunteer.
Di Somma (far left) canvasses with Asw. Caroline Casagrande; Brekke (far right) distributes literature with a volunteer.

You can read more on my thoughts regarding Monmouth County in 2014 by clicking here. This is a county that SHOULD be close but (likely) isn’t too close thanks to a cocktail of chronic Democrat incompetence and strong Republican organization. Expect Lillian Burry and Gary Rich to hold on and defeat Larry Luttrell and Joe Grillo by a healthy margin. For what it’s worth, holding the line in Monmouth is critical not just for residents of the most populous Jersey Shore county but also for Republicans running in future statewide elections who depend upon a strong showing in Monmouth-Ocean-Atlantic-Cape May to compensate for urban center deficits elsewhere in the state.

(5Third Congressional District MacArthur v. Belgard

Aimee Belgard (left) and Tom MacArthur (right)
Aimee Belgard (left) and Tom MacArthur (right)

You should’ve detected a theme by now in my federal contest analysis, Save Jerseyans: races that were supposed to be close but don’t really look like it down the home stretch. There was never any doubt that NJ-03 leaned Republican after redistricting removed blue Cherry Hill from the equation. Still, with Jon Runyan’s retirement after just two terms in office and Barack Obama having won the district not once but twice, Democrats hoped to mix it up with a sitting freeholder. Oops. Huge amounts of DCCC and House Majority PAC spending over the summer softened MacArthur up a bit but like a great boxer, the Republican absorbed the blows and executed a successful political rope-a-dope financed, in large part, by his self-made fortune. Now the national crowd is in full retreat and, as is the case in NJ-02 and NJ-05, this contest is now really just a matter of measuring the margin and gauging down-ballot impact (see Burlco analysis below). Consequently, Republicans are favored to maintain the 6-to-6 House seat split in New Jersey despite an overwhelming Democrat voter registration advantage.

(4) Cumberland and Salem Counties Noto v. Riley and Freeholder Board Control Battles

Combined, these two counties have less people living in them (roughly 223,000) than Jersey City (close to 250,000 and growing). Still, South Jersey remains the faster-growing part of the state, Save Jerseyans, and in terms of the all-important legislative race map, South Jersey is where most of the winnable districts lay, right in the shadow of Norcrossland. Control of both the Cumberland and Salem county freeholder boards is on the line this year; for Republicans, Salem is a defense but Cumberland, I’m told, is winnable. Power in Salem hinges on the fate of ethically-challenged Democrat incumbent Bruce Bobbitt. In Cumberland, Machine Democrats are throwing big money behind Asw. Celeste Riley who is attempting a lateral move to supplant GOP legend and long-time County Clerk Gloria Noto. That move might have as much to do with preventing a Republican sweep that would flip the board as well as foiling a comeback attempt by former GOP Sheriff Mike Barruzza. The bottom line? A big GOP night in both counties would not only help keep the Machine from spreading but also brighten the Republican picture somewhat in terms of contesting LD1 and LD3 in the future.

(3Bergen County Executive and Freeholder Board Donovan v. Tedesco + 2 seats (control race)

Avery and Walsh
Avery and Walsh

The battle for control of Bergen County, the state’s most populous county, was expected to be ugly, expensive and close. We can now confirm that’s satisfied the first two expectations (and then some). How close it will be is anyone’s guess. In 2010, when Donovan topped Dennis McNerney and the Ferriero Machine after a decade of Democrat rule, she promised Bergen taxpayers a “not just a new day in Bergen County government, but a new way of conducting Bergen County government.”

Voters will now head to the polls and pass judgment on her promise, not just on its face but in relation to the corrupt Democrats years that they previously left behind. Chronic Republican infighting cost the GOP its 2010-earned freeholder majority but Kathe’s running mates, Bernadette Walsh and Bob Avery, are running hard and hoping a GOP year nationally will translate to a red tint for New Jersey’s ultimate political battleground. 

(2Burlington County Freeholder Board2 open seats (control race)

Like most things south of Trenton, this race hasn’t gotten half of the attention it deserves from statewide political media, due in part to the overshadowing power of the open NJ-03 seat. No longer! As Tom MacArthur looks increasingly inevitable, the battle for two open GOP freeholder board seats is reaching a fever pitch since the board is currently 3-2 Republican. The county-wide Republican organization is strong but changing demographics is an ongoing challenge (e.g. a recent NJ-03 poll found MacArthur leading by a huge margin in Ocean but trailing in Burlington). The stakes? Not only control of one of South Jersey’s larger counties but command of the patronage-rich Burlington County Bridge Commission.Most of the Democrat outside help in Burlco this cycle has been North Jersey-based (guys like Steven Fulop looking for friends ahead of 2017), but everyone on both sides of the aisle would have reason for pause if the Norcross Machine was able to lurch north on I-295, consolidate power there and pick off Republican legislators in LD7 and LD8.

(1) Chris Christie’s RGA Election Night Nationwide! 

christie romneyYes, New Jersey doesn’t have a gubernatorial race (or, sadly, a super-competitive Senate or House race) in 2014, but the fate of Gov. Chris Christie’s RGA this cycle carries profound implications for New Jersey politics. Proving he’s a party-builder is key to the Christie 2016 narrative. Win, lose or (net) draw, how the pro- and anti-Christie forces are able to spin Tuesday’s results could transform the slowly-forming GOP presidential primary field.

Jeb and Mitt are closely watching Chris and vice versa. Remember: one year from now, the candidates will be announced, on the ground and pressing flesh in Iowa book stores and New Hampshire diners. And if Christie is in that mix, will he participate as a sitting governor? Or one who vacated his seat triggering an early special election to succeed him? Questions abound… and some speculate a Christie decision could come as early as January 2015…

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