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Legislative District 7

Josh McMahon | October 3, 2011

The attention in the 7th is focused more on the race for seats in the lower house, rather than the spot at the top.

This Burlington County district, which includes Mount Laurel, is one of New Jersey's few "split" districts -- where the major parties share control. Here, the Republicans hold the senate seat, while Democrats sit in the assembly.

Those Democrats are considered somewhat more vulnerable this year.

One reason is because of changes in the makeup of the district. Last spring, a legislative commission redrew the boundary lines of all the state's districts to ensure more equal representation based on new population data from the U.S. Census.

In the 7th, the new map removed the Democrat-leaning towns of Pennsauken and Maple Shade and added Mount Laurel and Moorestown, both of which are more Republican-leaning. So that could make incumbent Herb Conaway and his running mate Troy Singleton a bit more vulnerable.

And only Conaway has any edge due to incumbency. A physician, Conaway has represented the district for 14 years and is a proven vote getter. But his longtime running mate Jack Connors was a victim of redistricting. When his hometown of Pennsauken was moved out of the 7th, Connors chose not to seek reelection.

Troy Singleton is technically an incumbent, after being appointed to the seat by the Burlington and Camden county Democratic committees when Connors resigned in August. But it's his first run for the legislature.

The advantage Republican Assembly candidates James Keenan and Christopher Halgas have is Sen. Diane Allen, who heads the GOP ticket. While the district is generally regarded as leaning Democratic, Allen is very popular, having first won the seat in 1997 and having been re-elected by wide margins ever since. There are some voters who will vote party line from the top of the ticket down.

Keenan, who is the mayor of Mount Laurel, also has name recognition in part of the district. Halgas is a Moorestown businessman. Both are making their maiden runs for the legislature.

Although this is also Singleton's first run for office, he has been around politics for years He served as an aide to former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts. A carpenters' union official, he knows something about campaigning and politics.

At the top of the Democratic ticket Gail Cook, the mayor of Beverly, is trying to unseat Allen.

While Allen has been popular herself, the 13-year incumbent has not had long enough coattails for the other Republicans on her ticket, no matter how large her victory margins in the past.

Registration figures give a big advantage to the Democrats. Some 52,764 of the district's voters consider themselves Democrats, while 29,276 are registered Republicans. But the plurality of the 7th district voters list themselves as independents, and they will likely be a big factor in deciding the outcome.

The district, which includes towns in Burlington and Camden counties, is 81.5 percent white, 9.9 percent African American, 3.5 percent Asian, and 6.7 percent Hispanic.

The question in the 7th District race is whether Allen can do something she has not done before -- bring her Republican running mates to Trenton with her.

Josh McMahon has covered New Jersey issues for more than three decades. He reported on the New Jersey Supreme Court, was a bureau chief of the Star-Ledger's Trenton bureau, the political editor of the state's largest newspaper, and served on the paper's editorial board, overseeing the op-ed pages of the paper.

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