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Legislative District 29

Redistricting has made the 29th even more heavily Democratic, but Republicans are predicting a competitive race.

The 29th legislative district remains a Democratic stronghold despite this year’s redrawing of district lines, but Republicans are still hoping for an upset in November.

In office since winning her Senate seat in 2007, Democrat incumbent Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz of Newark is vying to keep her seat against two other Newark residents: Republican Aracelys Sanabria Tejada and Independent Laurie J. Taylor.

On the Assembly side, Democratic incumbents Alberto Coutinho and L. Grace Spencer, both of Newark, are seeking re-election against Republicans Elaine Guarino, also of Newark, and Lisa T. Kistner, of Belleville.

In the past, Democratic candidates in District 29 have overwhelmingly won elections in the district. Although Essex County Republican Committee Chairman Al Barlas acknowledged that District 29 is “heavily Democratic,” he is confident that the race will be competitive.

Still, if anything, the district has gotten even more Democratic following redistricting after last year’s Census. District 29 is entirely within Essex County, now that Union County’s Hillside was moved out of the district and replaced with Belleville. Hillside was transferred to District 20.

In the 2007 election, Ruiz beat five other candidates. She outpolled Republican candidate Al-Samar Douglas by more than 10,200 votes People’s Choice candidate Luis A. Quintana by more than 7,100 votes.

That same year, Spencer and Coutinho beat out eight other candidates. Then, in the 2009 Assembly election, Spencer and Coutinho won by 18,400 votes and 17,800 votes ahead over their respective Republican opponents.

Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Philip Thigpen expects similar election results this year. The biggest difference for District 29, Thigpen said, is that with the removal of Hillside, the district no longer crosses county lines. That means the candidates can focus exclusively on Essex, an area more familiar to them.

Thigpen said that the team is focused on improving the economy. Coutinho has been working to create a “more attractive business climate” in Newark, Thigpen said, adding those efforts have been “very helpful so far.”

Ruiz, he said, has been focused on the education system, “to improve their situation.”

Barlas agrees that redistricting hasn’t changed much and that the Republicans have their work cut out for them. Nevertheless, he said voters in this climate are receptive to the Republican platform advocated by Gov. Chris Christie, and that will help the GOP candidates in November.

Vanessa Roman, now a freelance writer, previously spent three years as a reporter with the Daily Record in Morris County, a Gannett New Jersey newspaper. She has written on a broad spectrum of issues, including local and regional education and politics.

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