NJ Elects First Black Congresswoman, Booker Returned to U.S. Senate
In low-turnout midterm election, none of state’s 12 House seats are poached by rival parties
The election of New Jersey's first African-American congresswoman was the big news from yesterday's elections, as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat, easily won reelection and the state's dozen House seats remained evenly split by the parties.
Turnout appeared to have hit a new low for a midterm election -- only 35 percent -- but results came in late and were incomplete in several counties due to problems with software that plagued election officials across the country. Monmouth had counted only a third of its ballots as of 2:15 a.m.
Every New Jersey incumbent won reelection. All three open seats in the U.S. House remained in the hands of the party currently in power: Democrat Donald Norcross will replace former Rep. Rob Andrews, who retired last February, in South Jersey's 1st District; Republican Tom MacArthur will replace Rep. Jon Runyan in the 3rd District, which covers parts of Burlington and Ocean counties; Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) will replace Rep. Rush Holt in Central Jersey's 12th District.
On defeating Dr. Alieta Eck, a Republican unsuccessful in seeking her party's nomination for the U.S. Senate last year, with a 76 percent majority, the 69-year-old Watson Coleman will be the first New Jersey woman to go to Congress in a dozen years and the first black woman to represent the state in Washington.
"This has been an amazing experience; I am so humbled by it," Watson Coleman, a 16-year legislator, told her supporters at her headquarters in Trenton last night. "This is not going to be an easy journey and we are going to have some very tough times, but we were made for these tough times."
She pledged to advocate for working families, children, and issues important to minorities and women's rights -- including the right to choose. "We still have to work on behalf of the people. We have got to provide these services for our communities," Watson Coleman added.
Booker, a freshman, easily won his first full term in the Senate with about 56 percent of the vote, taking 12 out of 21 counties. He talked about similar priorities in addressing a raucous crowd at his victory celebration in Newark, his home town where he had previously served as mayor.
"I am proud to be a Jersey boy," said the 45-year old who became the state's first African-American U.S. Senator when he won a special election last October. "I am going to be fighting for this state from Cape May to Bergen County. We must work to make this state work for us from north to south."
Discussing the partisan gridlock that has made this Congress the least productive in history, Booker said, "We have to get back to these ideals that we are better together ... We need to define ourselves not by how well we tear down each other, but by how well we build up America."
These results are preliminary as precincts report. The colors on the map indicate which party is leading by district: red for Republicans and blue for Democrats. A * indicates an incumbent.
Even before he took the stage to address his victory rally, Booker sent an email to supporters, in which he said, "no matter what happens in elections across the country tonight, I want to renew the promise I made during my first election: that I will work with anyone, from any party, who is willing to join me to move New Jersey, and our country, forward."
In a brief interview, Booker said the Democratic party needs to work harder to get its supporters out to vote in off-year elections.
"There is a lot of good things to be thankful for in a midterm election where the Democratic turnout is traditionally very low,” he said. “In a presidential election, everyone comes out and shows us to be very blue. But we all know this election had a low turnout compared to that, and we’re going to have to continue to work to let people know every election matters.”
Booker took himself out of the running for governor in 2017, at least for now.
“I am looking forward to six solid years [in the Senate],” he said. “We have seen the script where people win one election and right away they run for another office, but I was elected to the United State’s Senate for six years, and I will fulfill that term.”
Republican Jeff Bell, 70, lost his second Senate race -- his first loss was in 1978, the last time an elected Republican represented New Jersey in the upper house in Washington. At a low-key event, Bell said he couldn't reach Booker by phone but texted him to concede. He said Booker "won an impressive victory" and, despite the loss, "I do not regret for a moment having made the race."
Bell had to try to overcome not only Booker's greater name recognition, but also his larger warchest. Booker had raised $18 million during this election cycle, making him the fourth-largest Senate fundraiser in the nation, although some of that money was for last year's special elections. Bell raised only about $625,000, though he also benefitted from close to $400,000 in outside spending by conservative groups.
The most expensive House race in the state was in the 3rd District, where the candidates and superPACs spent about $10.5 million. While the Democrats had hoped an open seat would give them a chance to take the seat they held as recently as 2010, Republican Tom MacArthur spent $5 million of his own money to win with 55 percent of the vote. His win over Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard was not unexpected, as recent polls had shown him ahead. Belgard lost in her home county of Burlington.
"It’s just a statement that the voters want people that are going to go to Washington and solve problems. That’s what my whole campaign was about," said the former mayor of Randolph in North Jersey who moved to the district to run for Congress. "I think my background in business appealed to voters, because in business you have to find solutions to things. And three, I really talked a lot, and I’ll continue to, about working across party lines to accomplish things."
In addressing supporters in Bayville, MacArthur challenged his party to end gridlock and start governing.
"It appears that Republicans had a very successful night across the country. That's a good thing. But we need to view it as an opportunity to govern, not an opportunity to gloat. This is a moment for responsibility, not retribution," MacArthur said. "Our party must put results before rhetoric. End the petty, partisan gridlock in Washington. And start governing with a purpose and a plan to move this country towards a brighter, more prosperous future for all Americans, regardless of race, color, gender, or creed."
In the 1st District, whose seat has been vacant since Andrews' resignation, state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) vowed to work with both parties when he goes to Congress later this month, having won both a special election to fill the vacancy and a full two-year term. Norcross, brother of South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, had no trouble beating Republican Garry Cobb. Norcross won this blue district, which includes parts of Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties, with 57 percent of the vote.
Doesn't it seem like Congress has been fumbling around for a long time in the darkness?" a triumphant Donald Norcross, who will be the only labor leader in Congress, asked a cheering crowd of 400 packed into the Camden County Democratic headquarters hall in Cherry Hill. "It's time to send an electrician to Congress."
Donald Norcross, who grew up in Pennsauken and lives in Camden, pledged to “reach out to colleagues on both sides of the Delaware River and across the political aisle to find common ground, get people back to work, and create better opportunities for our struggling middleclass families. That should be the number one priority of Congress right now.”
There was one other race -- in the northernmost 5th District -- that New Jersey political junkies were watching because a mid-October poll had called it unusually close for a red district. But not only did Republican incumbent Scott Garrett win, his 56 percent majority was larger than two years ago.
In conceding last night, Democrat Roy Cho said that voters "sent a message that they are tired of a Congress that puts political ideology before the needs of the people. They are tired of a Congress that represents the special interests and not the common interests. And they put Scott Garrett on notice."
The Bergen County lawyer, who lost his home county, is political novice who raised $1.2 million in his bid, added that he had "built a strong base for the future." Garrett, meanwhile, had raised about twice that and had $2.8 million on hand as of mid-October, which he used to run TV ads portraying Cho as a carpetbagger with a suspicious record of voting in elections.
There were no surprises in any other races in the state, with all incumbents winning reelection:
Republican Frank LoBiondo won with almost 62 percent in the sprawling 2nd, which includes parts of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Ocean counties and all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem.
In the 4th, which covers parts of Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean counties, Republican Rep. Chris Smith took 69 percent of the vote.
Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone won In the 6th, which includes portions of Middlesex and Monmouth, with 61 percent.
In the 7th, which encompasses Hunterdon County and parts of Essex, Morris, Somerset, Union, and Warren, Republican Rep. Leonard Lance got 59 percent to win.
In the 8th, covering portions of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, incumbent Democrat Albio Sires won with 77 percent.
Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. polled 71 percent to win In the 9th, which includes parts of Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic counties.
In the 10th, covering portions of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, freshman Democrat Donald M. Payne Jr. won with the largest majority, taking 83 percent of the vote.
In the 11th, encompassing parts of Essex, Morris, Passaic, and Somerset, Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen polled 63 percent of the vote.
Mark J. Magyar, John Mooney, and Meir Rinde contributed to this article.