They’re ready, Save Jerseyans.
Our first round of 2023 election rankings for every legislative district in the state. We’ve talked to dozens of GOP insiders and have also written state-of-the-race profiles for the 14 most competitive districts. Will things change between now and Election Day? Absolutely. Can other districts “play their way onto the field?” Absolutely. It’s early; this is a preliminary ranking and we’ll likely share detailed updates throughout the fall season.
We’ll post new ratings daily over the next few to several days.
This is obviously our first election cycle post-redistricting under a newly-created map with district boundaries that lend themselves to being significantly more competitive than the map of the last decade. At least on paper. TBD.
You’ll note below that we have 20 districts “lean Dem” or better for the GOP, and only 17 districts are “safely” Democrat. Can the GOP win a majority in one or both chambers? It’s certainly a real possibility, but I’ll shoot straight: it’s definitely a long shot in 2023. Doable, but hard. But with that being said, there is a palpable building wave of parental resentment toward Phil Murphy and his radical agenda on the horizon. And it’s not just parents, either. Ratepayers are tired of watching their energy bills go up while Phil and his cronies give bailouts to wind companies owned by foreign governments. Residents are tired of having their cars stolen out of their driveways. Joe Biden is actually underwater in key battleground districts, The general political climate seems to be trending in the GOP’s favor, and like Phil Collins once warned (cue drum riff), I can feel something coming in the air tonight. Hold on!
The GOP currently controls 34 of 80 Assembly seats. 6 seat flips are needed for split control with the Democrats, 7 are needed for outright control. In the Senate, the GOP holds 16 of 40 seats, and needs to flip 4 seats for split control, and 5 for outright control.
A word about the chart below before my cell phone and email inbox blow up: these ratings represent a STARTING POINT for the general election cycle, not a prediction of the final outcome. A district which may be “lean Dem” in August could just as easily move to “swing” by the end of September with the right strategy, spending, and hard work. Likewise, making all the wrong moves and/or an unforeseen externality could move a “lean GOP” seat in the opposite direction. If it’s anywhere between “lean Dem” and “lean GOP,” then you can assume it’s a genuinely competitive seat. “Likely” seats have the potential to become competitive if a “wave” emerges or something else interesting develops (like a major scandal or late retirement).
So what’s the roadmap to get there?
There are Five Boxes to Check for GOP Majorities:
-The GOP must first defend all 34 Assembly seats they currently have, and all 16 Senate seats. ALL the “Lean,” “Likely” and “Safe” GOP districts listed above are completely occupied by Republicans.
-The Assembly GOP must defend their 2 seats in LD11 (a swing seat). And THIS is where the Senate has a more daunting road. They must beat Democrat Senator Vin Gopal since the 11th is split.
-Win the two Assembly seats and Senate race in LD4 (also a swing seat). This would bring the Senate up to 18 seats, and the Assembly up to 36 seats
-This is where it gets tougher, but doable. Assembly needs to win the four “Lean Dem” seats in Districts 16 and 38, two tough battlefields but undeniably rife with opportunity. This would bring them to 40 seats… a split majority with the Dems for the first time in decades. The Senate caucus ALSO needs to win these “Lean Dem” seats to get to a split majority. But for reasons we highlight in the district breakdowns below, these “Lean Dem” seats seem to be a bit easier for the Assembly candidates than the Senate ones right now.
Which brings me to another point: we’re rating districts, not seats at the moment. As I’ve already suggested, I would not be surprised to see an Assembly seat in a given district go “red” this year while the incumbent Democrat senator clings to power. Part of the reason why we didn’t split it up? Split districts are rare. There’s only one at the monent (LD11 and 12, and 12 is an aberration because of Sam Thompson’s party switch). The fact that one seat in a district is more competitive than another doesn’t necessarily mean the final result will be a split.
-For an outright majority of 41 seats in the Assembly, and 21 in the Senate? And assuming the GOP checked boxes 1-4? All the Senate and Assembly need is just one seat from one of the “Likely Dem” districts (14, 19 & 36) for full control. That’s it… just one! And three districts to choose from! Oh yeah, but did we mention these are by far the hardest districts to win? Doesn’t mean the GOP is not up to the challenge; just pointing out that winning in these places will be a real battle.
So, without further ado, let’s get to the first district on our list:
LD4 – What happens when the weakened but still formidable Norcross Machine goes up against an emerging Republican-labor coalition in a new swing district? The most competitive, and likely most expensive State Legislative race of 2023 lies ahead of us, and it’s going to be a barn burner. Make no mistake about it, Save Jerseyans: if the 2023 elections were a UFC fight night, LD4 would be the main card.
South Jersey has been growing increasingly red in the last five years or so (in 2019 and 2021, the NJGOP flipped a total of NINE South Jersey seats) for a host of reasons, and we could see that trend continue in this newly created swing district that takes in Philly suburbs in eastern Camden and Gloucester Counties as well as beautiful farmland in western Atlantic County. Remember: the last time this district resembled its current boundaries? 2009, when GOP challenger Dominick DiCicco ousted an incumbent Democrat to win an Assembly seat. History can repeat itself and very well might.
The GOP has put together a strong slate in Senate candidate Chris Del Borrello, a former Washington Township (a pivotal swing town in this district) Councilman with deep family roots there. Assembly candidate Amanda Esposito is a public school teacher who just two weeks ago ROASTED her union (the infamous NJEA) for endorsing her opponent despite the fact that Esposito herself is a member. It’s no surprise though, the Republicans here have been running on an unabashed, unapologetic pro-parent platform, and the NJEA lackeys are shameless political hatchet-men for Murphy’s agenda.
The GOP even got under the skin of their Senate opponent Paul Moriarty who said the LD4 GOP ticket was “fanning the flames of extremist culture wars” for running a pro-parent campaign and condescendingly compared them to Mississippians. What an asshole, right? Should go over great with the voters!
Espositio’s Assembly running mate is U.S Navy veteran Matt Walker. Walker is driving the Democrats nuts because he hardly fits the left’s caricature of the GOP in part because he is the first African-American to serve on Buena Borough Council but, more than that, he is a dynamic and charismatic campaigner who I hear is receiving a great reception on the campaign trail.
Like any cornered animal, we cannot take the Machine lightly. However, with the help of third party groups including the potent Operating Engineers (Local 825) of which candidate Walker is a member, South Jersey Republicans should be able to compete and go toe to toe with outside dark money Democrat groups, an odds-leveling factor that’s been absent from South Jersey campaigns for the past three decades.
To further heighten the drama for those of you who appreciate a good thriller, running beneath the surface are uncertain intra-party dynamics on the GOP side. The Del Borrello slate emerged victorious from a rather scathing June Primary, and by scathing we mean downright savage. While they were backed by Atlantic GOP Chair Don Purdy and Camden GOP Chair Tom Crone, Gloucester GOP Chair Jacci Vigilante unsuccessfully backed another slate of candidates. Both sides were recently in court battling over the Gloucester chairmanship, and the old wounds remain wide open.
Does the bad blood spill over to the slate of candidates? And if so, would it even matter? Maybe, and then again maybe not. Gloucester County comprises the largest portion of the district, and if the county party isn’t turning over every stone for votes (we’re not saying they aren’t), then sure, that’s far from optimal. On the other hand, hard work from the campaign coupled with likely heavy spending from outside groups could render that issue completely moot, if it even is an issue to begin with.
Republican unity could produce history. A GOP sweep here would push the Norcross Machine back to its original Camden County boundaries for the first time since the 1990s and reshape Garden State politics in an instant.
THE BOTTOM LINE: I’ll put it to you this way folks… if Vegas was taking bets on this race? I’m in for a GOP sweep. I wouldn’t bet my house on it by any means, but I’d bet a decent chunk of change. This district nevertheless remains the ultimate “toss up” district as of August. We’ll see what September brings.