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Elections 2015

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Three Closely-Contested Assembly Races Top Ballot in Statewide Election Today

Voters in New Jersey will fill 80 seats in lower house and elect county freeholders, municipal officials and school-board members

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Election Day is here. Statewide balloting taking place today throughout New Jersey hasn’t attracted much attention. But control of the state Assembly is at stake, and county freeholder and local municipal and school board races also are on the ballot.

The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. This polling place finder can help you find where to cast your ballot by plugging in your home address. Because the state's legislative districts have been drawn to favor one of the major parties or the other, few Assembly races are competitive. Of those, the parties are truly fighting in just three districts:

  • The 1st District, the state's southernmost, is currently split, with a Democratic senator, one Democratic assemblyman and one Republican assemblyman.

A mid-October poll found the Democratic ticket of incumbent Bob Andrzejczak and Vietnam veteran Bruce Land leading by no more than 3 percentage points, which was within the poll’s margin of error. They had outspent their opponents, Assemblyman Samuel Fiocchi and Cumberland County Freeholder Jim Sauro, by more than 2-to-1 as of Oct. 23 and have had the benefit of $1.2 million in support from a national pro-Democratic SuperPAC.

  • The 2nd District was the most expensive race in the state, as of Oct. 23, costing $3.6 million, including $1.5 million in independent spending. In a district centered around Atlantic City, the race has focused on the city's poor economic state and the controversy over whether gambling should be extended to other parts of New Jersey. An early October poll had voters splitting tickets and re-electing the incumbents. Both tickets feature an assemblyman running with an Atlantic County freeholder: the Democrats are incumbent Vincent Mazzeo and Freeholder Colin Brown, while the Republican incumbent is Chris Brown, running with Freeholder Will Pauls.

  • Two years ago in Bergen County's 38th District, Assemblyman Timothy Eustace won re-election by just 56 votes after a recount and his running mate Joseph Lagana fared slightly better. But that was when Gov. Chris Christie was at the top of the ticket and near the height of his popularity. Now, 60 percent of New Jerseyans do not back the governor and the Democrats have outspent the challengers by more than $1.3 million. Perhaps more importantly, the Republican team is in disarray: Anthony Cappola, a former River Edge councilman, withdrew his candidacy after it came to light that he had written a book full of slurs and stereotypes of gays, minorities and others but resumed campaigning when it was too late to remove his name from the ballot. That prompted running mate Mark DiPisa, a Bergen County housing authority commissioner, to refuse to campaign or even appear with Cappola.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, does not expect to see much change when all the votes are counted.

"It's anybody's guess in 1 and 2, but that's all," he said. "The Dems have been spending a lot of money in 11, but that would still be a shocker if they could pull it off."

The 11th in Monmouth County is another district to watch because of the effort the Democrats are making to try to unseat Republican Assemblywomen Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, but the GOP has held a tight lock on the seats. Challengers Joanne Downey and Eric Houghtaling have outspent the incumbents by more than 2-to-1 and labor has been making a big push for the Democratic ticket. Sensing Christie's unpopularity, Angelini and Casagrande have sent out mailers trying to distance themselves from him.

The other districts to watch are Central Jersey's 16th and the 27th, which straddles Essex and Morris counties. In the 16th, Republicans hold both Assembly seats, but registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans and the Democratic team had outspent the incumbents as of Oct. 23. In the 27th, Democrats hold a substantial voter edge, but past races have been close and the Republican challengers had spent almost as much as the Democratic incumbents as of the last regular ELEC filing.

All 80 seats in the lower house are on the ballot in this off-year election. With so few true contests, voter turnout could hit a new record low. The last time the Assembly topped the ballot, in 1999, 31 percent of voters went to the polls. Four years ago, when the state Senate was the highest office up for election, just 27 percent of those registered voted.

A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released last Tuesday found that three-quarters of New Jerseyans did not even know there is a state election this year.

To take control of the Assembly from the Democrats, the Republicans would have to win nine seats, which is unlikely. They currently hold 32 of the 80 seats in the lower house.

In total, 171 candidates are on seeking 80 seats in the Assembly: 77 Democrats, 77 Republicans and 17 independents. The Republicans in the 8th District in Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties are unopposed, while in the 34th in Essex and Passaic, only one Republican and an independent are challenging the Democratic incumbents.

There is a special election for one Senate seat in the 5th District in Gloucester and Camden counties, where Democratic Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, who was appointed earlier this year to replace Donald Norcross, who was elected to Congress, faces no opposition in her quest to keep her seat for the next two years.

For those voters who may not have made up their minds, NJ Spotlight's election guide includes information on all the races.

There are also a number of groups that have endorsed candidates or queried them on issues. Among them are NJ League of Women Voters, Garden State Equality, NEW JOBS PAC, NJEA PAC and NJ AFL-CIO

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