Campaigning for the November election typically starts unofficially on Labor Day, and this year New Jersey Democrats hold both an incumbency and a monetary advantage.
Although this fall is expected to be quiet in most of the state because Assembly seats are topping the ballot and there are very few truly competitive districts, the total cash candidates had left after the June primary is more than 20 percent higher than the election two years ago, according to an analysis by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
ELEC tallied the fundraising and spending from the reports candidates and committees were required to file 20 days after the election and found that Democrats had about $4.3 million cash on hand, compared with $2.4 million for Republicans. The total $6.6 million this year compares with $5.5 million at the same point in 2013 and $5.2 million in 2011. Although candidates may have raised more money over the summer, their next reporting date is not until October 5.
Democrats had also outraised and outspent Republicans by two-to-one margins in the primary.
Not surprisingly, the ELEC analysis found that the majority of the fundraising activity occurred in five districts that have recently been battlegrounds, including the two -- the 1st and 2nd along the South Jersey shore -- that are true tossups.
“Historically, a handful of districts have become the chief targets of the two major parties. These districts usually draw the heaviest spending,” said Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s executive director, on releasing the commission's analysis. “During the last 20 years, these five districts often have been among the top targets.”
Candidates in the 2nd, which includes Atlantic City, were starting this season with more than $575,000. The Republican slate of Assemblyman Chris Brown and Will Pauls had about $240,000 more on hand after the primary than Democrats Vincent Mazzeo, the other incumbent, and his running mate Colin Bell.
The Republicans also have the cash advantage in the only other district with split representation, the 1st in the extreme southern tip of New Jersey, although just barely. Incumbent Sam Fiocchi and running mate Jim Sauro had $685 more on hand than the Democrats, Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak and R. Bruce Land.
Rounding out the list of the top five are the 38th in Bergen and Passaic, with more than $436,000 in cash reserves; the 14th in Mercer and Middlesex, with nearly $380,000; and the 3rd, in Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties, with $244,000. In all three of those, Democrats have significantly more money than the GOP.
Democrats have more cash on hand in 22 districts, with the largest margin being $484,000 in the safely blue 32nd in Bergen and Hudson counties. Republicans have more in 16 districts, led by the safely red 10th District along the Shore in Ocean County, where Republicans have $316,000 more. In both of those districts, the party out of power had no cash. That's the case in more than half the districts: The party not in control of the Assembly seats reported no cash reserve.
At stake this November is control of the lower house. The Democrats currently hold 48 seats, while the Republicans have 32.
In total, 171 candidates are on the ballot seeking 80 seats in the Assembly: 77 Democrats, 77 Republicans and 17 independents.