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In 3rd District, GOP Hopes to Trip up Sweeney on Christie's Coattails

John Burzichelli
John Burzichelli

However, Trunk and her running mates are accusing Sweeney of blocking property-tax reform, and last year, the AFL-CIO, the NJ Educational Association, and the Communications Workers of America declined to endorse Sweeney, who is a union organizer, as well as his District 3 team for backing a bill that stripped public employees of the right to collectively bargain for health benefits. This year, the three unions have endorsed Sweeney and his running mates.

The democrats are also being supported by the union-funded Fund for Jobs, Growth and Security, a Washington, D.C., Super PAC affiliated with powerful Democrats and believed to be backed by South Jersey power broker and close Sweeney ally George Norcross. The fund has created a website to criticize Trunk, and according to Politico it has spent at least $312,000 on attack ads in the 3rd district. A spokesperson for the fund declined to confirm that figure.

Additionally, Democrats have considerably more of their own money to spend on this race. Going into the general election, Sweeney, Burzichelli, and Riley had $1.1 million between them. Trunk, Wallace, and Vanderslice had less than $35,000. Though Riley’s individual $6,600 cash on hand was dwarfed by Burzichelli’s $128,000, she held nearly double the amount as Vanderslice and six times that of Wallace.

Celeste Riley
Celeste Riley

Though Burzichelli and Riley beat their 2011 challengers by 5.5 percentage points or less, Daniel Douglas, director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, says he doesn’t see the two incumbents, whom he says enjoy good name recognition, losing to their opponents because of Christie’s coattails or for any other reason. “Last time the race gave the appearance of being competitive but it wasn’t. With Sweeney at the top of the ticket, he carries the district. They usually run pretty tightly as a team,” he said, before adding that in general, some voters vote just for the candidate at the top of the ticket then drop off

Sweeney agreed. “The people are supporting the governor but they come right back to us because they want a Democratic legislature,” he said.

The headline on a press release announcing the results of a Rutgers-Eagleton poll conducted in late September read, “Christie’s Coattails Falling Short in Legislative Contest.” The poll found that only 32 percent of likely voters plan to vote for Republican candidates for Assembly. Numbers for the Senate were similar. Burzichelli told NJ Spotlight this week, “From everything we’re seeing the governor has a personality almost independent of party identification. He’s an independent brand, and I don’t see coattails in this race.”

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