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Legislative District 21

A trio of strong Republican incumbents may make it difficult for Democrats to gain ground in the 21st.

Ironically, the three Republican incumbents in the 21st Legislative District gained their seats at special conventions rather than by winning elections.

Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. and Assemblymembers Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz are fiscal conservatives who have backed Gov. Chris Christie's efforts to restrain public employee salaries, healthcare benefits and pensions.

The Democrats are fielding Paul Swanicke for the Senate; Assembly hopefuls Bruce Bergen and Norman Albert are veteran party also-rans. All three are attorneys.

Libertarian Darren Young, a software developer, is also on the Assembly ballot.

While the 21st is considered a Republican district it has only a marginal Republican majority: 41,324 registered to vote in last June’s primary, compared with 36,967 Democrats. There were 63,853 unaffiliated voters. The municipal makeup of the district is centered in the older suburban regions of Union, Essex, Morris, and Someret counties.

Last spring’s redistricting did little to help the Democrats, swapping out Chatham Township for Chatham Borough, and adding Bernards and Far Hills in Somerset County and Kenilworth in Union County. The bottom line: Republicans still have an edge.

Kean, scion of a legendary New Jersey political family, was chosen at a party convention to join the Assembly in 2001, replacing an ailing Alan Augustine. In 2003, he was appointed to the state Senate, to replace Richard Bagger, now Christie's chief of staff. Kean is the son of Gov. Thomas Kean; his grandfather, great-grandfather, and great uncle all served in the state legislature.

A Republican convention chose Bramnick to replace Kean Jr. in the assembly when he rose to the Senate; another convention picked Munoz to replace her husband, Dr. Eric Munoz, after he died. Assemblywoman Munoz began her term in May 2009 and was elected to her first full term in November 2009. She is seeking her second full term in the Assembly.

The Republican candidates are considered possible 2012 opponents to Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez. Kean lost to Menendez in 2006.

Despite Republican advantages , the Democrats are looking to fight hard. At a campaign stop, Swanicke pulled no punches, saying the Republicans are "anti-public education, anti-union, anti-poor, anti-healthcare reform and anti-choice."

Albert and Bergen both ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly in the past two elections. Albert also was on the ballot in 2003, while Bergen lost in 2005.

Young, too, is a veteran campaigner, losing in the 7th Congressional District in 2006 and, a year later, losing an Assembly election.

Kean has sponsored legislation to ban pay-to-play practices in the state and sponsored a law prohibiting the state from investing in companies doing business in Sudan.

Both Munoz, a nurse, and Bramnick, a lawyer, were co-sponsors of the law that banned the use of bath salts.

Michael Daigle is a freelance writer and journalist from Phillipsburg. He has worked for newspapers in Massachusetts, Maine, and for the past 20 years, in New Jersey. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting on housing policy, politics, environmental issues and as a columnist.

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