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Legislative District 38

Both parties are sure they can take the 38th, which could make the district the site of a take-no-prisoners political battle.

Shifting political winds account for the optimism of the 38th District Republicans who believe they have a realistic chance of taking the Senate seat and possibly both Assembly spots.

Democrats are just as convinced that the GOP takeover is never going to happen.

All of this political positioning paves the way for a real donnybrook this fall in the Bergen County district.

Robert Gordon, who has been in the senate since 2007 and prior to that served four years in the Assembly, heads the Democratic ticket. His running mates are Connie Wagner, a two-term assemblywoman, and Timothy Eustace, the mayor of Maywood.

Both Gordon and Wagner are known names in the district and veteran campaigners. Gordon has been involved in politics in one way or another since the 1970s and so knows what it takes to win.

John Driscoll, chairman of the Bergen County Freeholder Board, leads the Republican slate. He's joined by Richard Goldberg, the mayor of Hawthorne, and Fernando Alonso of Oradell.

The elements that figure into races in other districts are at play in the 38th as well. Gov. Chris Christie's policies will be fodder for both sides, as will be the effects of redistricting. But there's an underlying factor in this race and it's the sense that Bergen County is undergoing a political character change.

For nearly a decade the Democrats controlled the county, but not any more.

In 2008, Driscoll and a fellow Republican won seats on the freeholder board, breaking the Democrat's vice-like grip on the county's political power structure.

Then last year, the Republicans swept five county posts, winning the county executive's office, the sheriff's post, as well as three freeholder seats. This gave the GOP control of the freeholder board (5-2).

That accounts for the optimism.

A look at the political demographics gives the edge to the Democrats.

Registration figures show Democrats with 39,525 voters to the Republicans' 27,046. But independents outnumber both parties with 62,969. It's those voters who have accounted for the two-year GOP trend and it will be those voters who determine if that trend continues.

The new district map saw the Democrats lose Fort Lee, but they gained Bergenfield -- a move that leaves the district a Democratic-leaning one . Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth University's Polling Institute, has examined the results of the last two Senate and Assembly races and, based on those results, estimated which party has an edge going into the race. His data shows the Democratic Senate candidate with a 9 percent edge and the Assembly candidates with a 4 percent advantage.

But both those numbers are low enough for either side to have hopes of winning.

Early on, the money game belongs to the Democrats, who initially had nearly $400,000 in campaign coffers, compared with $14,000 for the Republicans. That should change, though, as both parties are expected to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race.

The Democrats' state party leaders already have talked about spending $1.2 million to help candidates, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney has said Gordon will have what he needs to win.

The Republicans have Gov. Chris Christie, who has amply demonstrated his fund raising abilities and is expected to use them to help Driscoll and the others.

Without a doubt, Christie will be an issue for both sides.

Gordon and the Democrats will maintain that electing Driscoll will give Christie another vote for his budget-cutting polices that have hurt the middle class.

Driscoll will point out that Gordon opposed the pension and health care changes championed by Christie and argue that the senator is nothing more than a toady for the labor unions who cares little about working class taxpayers.

Political change has come to Bergen County, but it remains to be seen whether that change includes state legislators.

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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