The conservative preference of voters in the 13th District may not have changed, but one at least one thing will definitely be different after the election -- thanks to last spring’s redistricting.
Incumbent Assemblyman Samuel D. Thompson, a Republican who has served in the lower house since 1998, has found himself the odd man out now that his hometown of Old Bridge Township has been moved out of the 13th.
That leaves one Assembly seat without an incumbent. Or does it?
Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon’s hometown of Little Silver was moved from the 12th into the 13th, and the two-term lawmaker is hoping to make a smooth transition into office in his new district.
Before redistricting the 13th District comprised parts of Middlesex and Monmouth counties. Now it's almost all Republican-friendly Monmouth municipalities. Along with losing Old Bridge, Monmouth’s Matawan has also been moved to the 12th. Replacing them are Atlantic Highlands, Fair Haven, Little Silver, Marlboro, Monmouth Beach, Oceanport, Rumson, and Sea Bright. In 2007, every one of those municipalities, except Marlboro, voted Republican across the board.
That isn't to say the Democrats are without a chance. Former Hazlet Mayor Kevin Lavan, running for a seat in the Assembly, says a large percentage of New Jersey residents are “not happy with the direction the state is going" and that is the Democrats' best hope for flipping seats.
In particular, he points to incumbent Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, who he describes as a no-show for the district. Lavan, who lives and works in locally, says “she hasn't really done that much for the area.”
“I feel it's time for the change. A lot can be done that hasn't been done. That's why I'm running for office,” he added.
Unsurprisingly, Handlin sees things somewhat differently, claiming the ranks of those who support the Republican cause “are growing everyday.”
“I'm more and more frequently getting phone calls and emails from people who say they used to be a Democrat but can no longer live under policies supported by Democrats over the years,” Handlin said. “They say their business can no longer saddle the cost of over-regulation. When people are angry they are primed to bring about big changes.”
A three-term lawmaker, Handlin will be the sole incumbent from the 13th District in the two-seat Assembly race. She is running with O’Scanlon. Although he has to impress a new constituency, his new legislative home already tends to vote the GOP ticket.
Aside from the Republicans and Lavan, the Assembly race includes three other candidates, one other Democrat and two Constitution Party members. Patrick Short, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel serving on the Middletown committee, rounds out the Democratic ticket for the Assembly. William H. Lawton and Frank C. Cottone will be representing the Constitution Party.
Cottone describes the Constitution Party as "conservative" but said that today "unfortunately that label is very misunderstood."
In the past, he said, "most people identified themselves as conservatives and they really were unaware of what being conservative is."
Labels across the spectrum have become confused, Cottone continued, arguing that people who identify themselves as liberals may be taken aback by what he calls the liberal courts’ take on "eminent domain and allowing so much government intrusion."
"Most liberals would then reconsider their position," he said.
In the Senate race, Republican incumbent Joseph M. Kyrillos, Jr., who has served in the upper house since 1993, has four challengers. Foremost among them is another former Hazlet mayor, Christopher Cullen. Cullen, who served one term as mayor, became the Democratic candidate for Senate after a successful write-in primary campaign. He has the most experience of Kyrillos’s challengers.
In a statement on the Democrat’s website, Cullen slammed Kyrillos for his support of Christie, saying, “The people of the Thirteenth Legislative District will have a choice between a voice for working families and the voice for Chris Christie.”
Kyrillos has been a stalwart supporter of Christie. He helped bring Christie into office, working as the state chairman of the Christie for Governor campaign, and has since endorsed many of his toolkit initiatives. Also on the ballot are three independent candidates: businessman and former Marine Stephen Boracchia, who is running on the Constitution Party ticket; Karen Anne Zaletel, of the Keep Monmouth Green party; and Mac Dara F. Lyden of Belford.
The crowded fields in both house races make the 13th the most hotly contested district in New Jersey this year.
The candidates have largely identified the same issues -- high taxes, education, and jobs -- and have already tried to shape the discourse to fit or oppose Christie's opinions. How candidates do may well be the most accurate poll yet of Christie's popularity statewide.