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Legislative District 9

The word is that the only way the Democrats can take the solidly Republican 9th is by capturing nearly all of the undecided votes.

The 9th district in South Jersey is one where local issues, in addition to Gov. Chris Christie’s policies, are tops in the minds of voters.

Following last spring's redistricting, the 9th consists of 19 towns in Ocean County, two in Burlington, and two in Atlantic. It picked up Seaside Park and South Toms River in Ocean; Bass River Township and Tabernacle Township in Burlington; and Galloway Township and Port Republic City in Atlantic. At the same time, it lost Manchester and Lakehurst in Ocean and Folsom and Hammonton in Atlantic.

For all the movement, though, this Jersey Shore district remains predominately Republican.

It is represented by Sen. Christopher Connors and Assembly members DiAnne Grove and Brian Rumpf, all Republicans. Connors is a longtime state representative, having been elected to the Assembly in 1989. He moved up to the senate four years ago.

The incumbents are running against Democrats Dorothy Ryan for senator, and Bradley Billhimer and Carla Kearney for the Assembly. All three ran unopposed in the June 2011 primary. Both Ryan and Kearney hold local elective offices. The Democrats’ platform seeks to protect the middleclass and the poor, especially senior citizens. It also focuses on education.

But two local issues also dominate the minds of the candidates and the voters: Christie’s plan to clean up the polluted Barnegat Bay, which runs through much of the district, and the closing of the Oyster Bay Nuclear Plant in Lacey Township in 2019. Both the Democrat and Republican candidates are in favor of these moves, and said they will work to promote them.

The Democrats will most likely have a difficult race against the incumbents, based on the demographics of the district and its previous voting patterns. A recent Richard Stockton College/Zogby Poll commissioned by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy confirms that. It found Connors leading Ryan by almost two-to-one and the Assembly Republicans ahead of their Democratic challengers, as well.

“The Democrats’ chance of making up this much ground relies on their ability to convert nearly all of the ‘not sures’ to their voters,” said Daniel J. Douglas, director of the Hughes Center.

Ryan and her team feel confident that they can win in November.

The Democratic senate candidate has been a Barnegat Township committee woman since 2007. She ran her husband’s Assembly campaign in 2001, which has given her political experience in a legislative race. Billhimer is an attorney in Toms River. Kearney, a South Toms River councilwoman, works in Asbury Park as fatherhood coordinator, a job that is part of a new initiative that came from President Obama's call for fathers to engage in their children’s lives. Kearney is serving her third term on the council and is also a member of the Planning Board.

Connors serves on the Senate Community and Urban Affairs and the Law and Public Safety and Veterans Affairs committees. Prior to entering state-level politics, he was on the Lacey Township committee and served as its mayor. He is an attorney in private practice in Ocean County.

Also an attorney in private practice, Rumpf was elected to the Assembly in 2003. Before that, he served on the Little Egg Harbor Township committee.

Grove is a full-time legislator finishing her first term in the Assembly. Before that, she was a Long Beach Township commissioner. She also served on the Ocean County Advisory Commission on the Status of Women.

Lisa Zambito is a freelance writer based in Hunterdon County.

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