By Matthew Gilson | The Save Jersey Blog
With the legislative elections fast approaching and Primary Day right around the corner, Save Jerseyans, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at just where we stand in our battle to reclaim the Assembly.
It is going to an uphill battle, something I am sure you are all aware of. The question I am looking to answer is just how uphill and where exactly do the best pickup opportunities lie? I did not rank the likelihood that any Republicans will lose their seats; I think we are just about as low as we can go given the current map.
That being said, here is a first look at the races that we’ll revisit in a month or so:
Leaning Republican Takeover
1.) Vince Mazzeo (District 2)
Though the race in District 2 and the race in District 38 were both razor-thin, Mazzeo tops the list because he lacks a running mate who is an incumbent and because he only won his first-term last cycle by 51 votes. This year, he’s drawn two top-tier opponents in Assemblyman Chris Brown and Freeholder Will Pauls. It will be interesting to see which direction the North Jersey casino battle takes; the as-of-yet unresolved gaming war could have an impact on just how vulnerable “Meadowlands Mazzeo” will be. Expect this race to continue to be one of the marquee contests this fall and I would be very surprised to see Mazzeo fall from the top spot in our rankings.
2.) Tim Eustace (District 38)
The former mayor of Maywood and two-term assemblyman occupies the #2 spot in our initial rankings after needing provisionals, mail-ins, a recount and a few small miracles to edge Rochelle Park Mayor Joe Scarpa who actually lead on the initial count before losing by just 35 votes. On paper, the 38th is perhaps the most competitive district in the state with every town, perhaps the exception being Bergenfield and Hawthorne, truly up for grabs in this race. Two things that may push Republicans over the top this time? First, Senator Bob Gordon not being at the top of the ticket hurts the Democrats in Fair Lawn, the largest town in the district. The second is that Republicans are further aided in Fair Lawn by the presence of extremely popular Mayor John Cosgrove headlining the local ticket.
3.) Joe Lagana (District 38)
Former Paramus Councilman and plug-and-play Assembly stand-in, Joe Lagana, checks in just under Eustace after edging him out by less than 200 votes in 2013. Unlike the majority of districts discussed below where one incumbent is vastly stronger than that other, deciding which of the two incumbents in 38 is stronger is no easier than picking to play “red” or “black” when the new Meadowlands casino opens. Lagana does not enjoy particularly strong name recognition and lost his purple-ish hometown of Paramus last go around. That makes him vulnerable by any definition.
4.) Bob Andrzejczak (District 1)
Many people point to District 1 in the same breath as District 2, but do not count me as one of those people. Whereas District 2 and 38 provided a tight four-way race in 2013, Assemblyman Andrzejczak finished nearly 4,000 votes ahead of the low vote-getting second Republican challenger. I am not a believer that the election was entirely a fluke and rebuke of former Democrat Assemblyman Nelson Albano, but it is the fact that we did take out a Dem last time, and the lack of Senator Van Drew on the ballot, that earns this race the #4 spot and places it as the sole genuine 2015 tossup at the moment. With two strong candidates in Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi will be running with Cumberland County Freeholder Jim Sauro both hailing from Cumberland County, the bluer part of the district, this race is going to come down to the wire.
5.) Daniel Benson (District 14)
The “marquee” races are listed above; moving down the GOP hit list, Assemblyman Daniel Benson checks in as the next most endangered Democrat incumbent after Mazzeo, Eustace, Lagana and Andrzejczak. This is a district where one incumbent clearly shows more firepower than the other with Wayne DeAngelo besting Benson by over 1,000 votes in 2013 driven largely by strong labor backing. What’s more, Republican David Jones presents as a strong challenger with an interesting background so, if he can raise the money, I can see this race moving up the list to the toss-up category. However, considering the district’s long-standing Democrat orientation (a Republican hasn’t won here since Bill Baroni did back in 2009), and the fact that its population contains the state’s largest percentage of state workers, any minor missteps by Republicans will quickly push this race into the realm of the noncompetitive. Our guys need to be perfect, illustrating once again the difficulty of the legislative map.
6.) Nancy Pinkin (District 18)
One of the big races in 2013, District 18 remains on the radar due in large part to the grassroots strength of challenger Synnove Bakke, a former Save Jersey contributor. Bakke has a strong background in party activism and is a fierce campaigner; her fundraiser scheduled for this Friday already had to be moved once to a different venue in order to accommodate a larger-than-expected crowd. District 18 is another aspiring battleground where low-turnout in the higher densely populated areas of the district, entirely possible this time around given the lack of a big ticket draw, could greatly swing the election in the GOP’s direction IF the party runs the right kind fo campaign. This is a hard race to judge right now as a result and I expect it to move significantly one way (or the other) in our next race ratings analysis post.
7. and 8.) Herb Conaway (District 7) and Troy Singleton (District 7)
Moving another rung down the ladder, the ceiling for the Assembly GOP may very well begin in District 7, a place on the borderline of the South Jersey Democrat Machine where Republicans have continually held the senate seat but failed to make any headway whatsoever towards winning an Assembly seat. The lack of Diane Allen on the ticket hurts the Republicans in a way similar that the absence of Gordon or Van Drew impacts their districts. We’ll need to see something dramatic here to consider moving it into the “lean” or toss up columns.
9.) Mila Jasey (District 27)
Another district with a large gap between incumbents, Mila Jasey appears to be on the radar of Republicans in a district with a deep partisan divide. Specifically, the district is split between heavily Republican Morris County towns and heavily Democratic Essex County towns. The key to a Republican victory is low turnout in West Orange, South Orange and Maplewood, a bloc that, in 2013, provided a margin of victory double the margin of victory for the Democrats district-wide. On paper, Republican challenger Q Rim would appear to be the stronger of the challengers, but he has an untested campaign team in a district where every ounce of experience will count; this isn’t a district where Republicans have time to learn on the job, so unless the LD27 campaign quickly demonstrates prodigy-level prowess, this race is unlikely to graduates into the “lean” or toss up categories.
10.) Marlene Caride (District 36)
Speaking of gaps between incumbents, perhaps no district has more of a power vacuum between their legislators than the good old “Fighting 36th.” While Paul Sarlo remains king, Gary Schaer is coming off another romp of his opponents for Passaic City Council and is about as unbeatable as they come with his ability to run up tremendous margins in his home base. Caride, on the other hand ,seems to feed off her legislative partners, lacking much clout of her own as evidenced by rumors of primary challenges having surfaced. While certainly a long shot, if there is a strongly depressed turnout in Passaic and mayoral elections in Rutherford and Ridgefield drive up Republican numbers, Carlstadt Councilman Jim Lenoy must just sneak into a victory.
On the radar:
These seats aren’t in play by anyone’s honest estimation right now but that could change based on a host of factors: Jack McKeon (27), Wayne DeAngelo (14) and Adam Taliaferro (3).