LD38 in 2015: What to watch on the ground

By Matthew Gilson | The Save Jersey Blog

With all the focus on the two districts in South Jersey as of late, Save Jerseyans, it’s easy to forget the race which had the small distance between first and last (and by no small margin) was actually District 38.

In 2013, first place finisher, Joe Lagana, and last place finisher, Joan Fragala, were separated by a mere 423 votes. Compare that to District 1 where our second Republican challenger was nearly 4,000 votes behind!

There are plenty of reasons as to why District 38 might be our best chance to pickup seats in 2015 but here is a quick rundown:

The District

District 38 is truly one of the hardest-to-handicap districts because it lacks any towns which are truly GOTV juggernauts for either side. Whereas many other swing districts have towns which produce huge pluralities for either side, this is not really the case in District 38. If we look at the two candidates who were in a neck-and-neck battle for second, Tim Eustace and Joe Scarpa, there was not one town that produced a landslide. Bergenfield and Hawthorne, the most Democratic and Republican towns respectively in the district, each produced only around a 600 vote edge for the candidates.

The Candidates

ld38On the Democratic side, they are sticking with their incumbents, Lagana and Eustace. Both are relatively new to the district with Eustace coming on board in 2011 after serving as mayor of Maywood succeeding Joan Voss (now a freeholder) who was drawn out of the district. Interesting side not: since Eustace left Maywood, a 6-0 Democratic stranglehold has crumbled and the Republicans now control the town. Lagana, a former Paramus councilman, replaced long-time Assemblyman Connie Wagner in the middle of the 2013 cycle. Neither one of these candidates is particularly stronger than the other; Lagana finished ahead by only a nominal amount in 2013.

For the Republicans, the challengers will be Mark DiPisa, 34, an attorney from Lodi by way of Hasbrouck Heights, and Anthony Cappola, a small-business owner and River Edge councilman. DiPisa, a newcomer to electoral politics, is the son of seven-term Hasbrouck Heights Councilman Justin DiPisa and a fresh face the party desperately needs. Cappola, 41, was elected in River Edge, a key town where Republicans will need to win this time if they are to take the two seats.

Key Town:

If Republicans are going to win both seats, they need to win or at least cut down the approximate 500 vote Democratic victory in Fair Lawn from 2013. The task, made easy by the off-year election, will be made even easier by the presence of popular Republican Mayor John Cosgrove on the ticket. Speculation mounts that Cosgrove is eyeing a battle with Gordon in 2017, and what better way to kick-start that effort that finishing off his lieutenants?

Issues:

vote buttonThe issues in the district are not terribly unique, but I would suggest (and have suggested) that Fair School Funding by a top issue. The 38th contains ZERO Abbott districts and every town would benefit from a change in funding formula. Running on this issue would force Eustace and Lagana to answer whether they represent the people of the 38th or the Democratic bosses in Trenton (but we all already know the answer to that one)!

Wild Card Player:

Perhaps the biggest wild card player in all of this may be none other than Bergenfield Mayor Norman Schmelz. Schmelz won a special election over a scandal plagued Democrat in 2013, but since then he has built quite a name for himself and become very popular in what is, as alluded to earlier, the undisputed most Democratic town in the district. If Schmelz can win re-election, which is looking much more likely than it did after his initial victory, it may help cut the margin in Bergenfield and provide the boost needed to win.

Can the Republicans win in the 38th? Absolutely!

However, unlike the 1st or 2nd, the major drawback is that neither of our candidates are incumbents. I would rate the 38th as a clear-cut second in competitive races, ahead of the 1st, and when all is said and done, it may wind up being the only district where two seats flip to the Republican side of the aisle.