As he runs for reelection, Senate President Steve Sweeney has several factors in his favor: He’s the most powerful elected Democrat in the state; he hails from a district that favors his party by a 2-to-1 margin; and he enjoys a friendly public relationship with popular Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Still, those advantages haven’t stopped Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. from targeting Sweeney in an effort to pick up the five additional seats he needs to secure a Republican majority in the upper chamber.
Republican strategists are counting on Christie’s coattails to help pull Republicans who are lower on the ticket into office.
But Sweeney and his running mates say they don’t believe that Christie’s high marks with voters will derail their reelection plans -- and neither do independent pollsters. Instead, Sweeney and his incumbent 3rd District running mates, John Burzichelli and Celeste Riley, believe their own bipartisan efforts, combined with their voting records, will see them safely back into office.
Kean is doing everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. has recruited attorney and former Deputy Chief of Staff of the State Comptroller’s Office Niki Trunk to challenge the Senate president.
Not only has Kean contributed at least $8,500 to Trunk’s campaign, he also released a memo earlier this year naming Sweeney’s seat as among the most winnable in the state. “With the successful re-election of our 16 Senate Republicans, these five seats alone (1, 2, 3, 14 and 38) are enough to build a new majority,” he wrote. “These are districts that, even in non-gubernatorial years, should remain realistic targets for Republicans with enough campaign resources.” Districts 1, 2, and 3 are in South Jersey, where Sweeney has consolidated his power in a district that covers large parts of residential and agricultural Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland counties.
The memo reportedly infuriated Sweeney, who told NJ Spotlight, “I don’t see it. If he’s honest with his polling, I don’t see him picking up any seats, including mine.”
His claim may be bolstered by the severe criticism of Trunk by the Republican mayor of her hometown, who shared a ticket with her when she ran successfully for deputy mayor. This summer, Harrison Township Mayor Louis Manzo persuaded the five-member, all-Republican township committee to endorse Sweeney over Trunk, who served as township committeewoman from 2008 to 2010. Manzo cited Sweeney’s bipartisanship and criticized Trunk’s lack of experience and attempt to block the construction of a highway bypass he supported while she was on the committee.