The November election will determine if the newly reconfigured 11th Legislative District has been altered enough to give Democrats a chance at any of the three seats, all held by Republican women.
Although all the Republicans are veterans, only one — Mary Pat Angelini — is truly an incumbent. Assemblywoman Angelini is seeking her third term. Sen. Jennifer Beck and Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande both currently represent the neighboring 12th District. They are running in the 11th because their hometowns — Beck is from Red Bank and Casagrande is from Colts Neck — were moved due to redistricting.
The Democratic ticket features Raymond Santiago, an attorney, for the Senate seat, and Vin Gopal, a small-business owner, and Kathleen Horgan, a councilwoman in Red Bank, for the Assembly.
A wildcard in the race is Dan Jacobson, who served a term in the Assembly in the early 1990s and now publishes the alternative Tri-City News based in Asbury Park.
The highly Republican Wall Township was taken out of the district, and the new 11th now contains Asbury Park, Neptune, and Freehold borough, all dominated by Democrats. In fact, the district now has a strong Democratic majority with 36,000 Democrats and 26,000 Republicans registered in the district since the districts were redrawn after the 2010 census.
However, there are almost 70,000 voters who have no party declaration and a low turnout, off-year legislative race may not give the Democrats enough of a reason to come out to vote, so the Republicans are still favored.
In New Jersey’s off-year elections, the outcome often turns on who has the better get-out-the-vote organization.
Gov. Christie’s influence will also be considerable. The district is split between those who appreciate the spending cuts he has enacted and strong labor unions, who resent the job losses and benefit reductions the cuts have created. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) has a particularly strong presence in the district and the teachers are not happy with the governor. So even though he is not on the ballot, Christie’s reputation may hurt the Republican candidates.
Although gay marriage is a nonissue in many parts of the state, especially since the Democrats do not have enough votes to override the governor’s promised veto of a bill should it pass, it has become somewhat of an issue here. Sen. Jennifer Beck, who voted against gay marriage, said in an interview that her thinking has evolved and she would vote for the measure if it came up again. One of her running mates, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini took the same position, though with some reluctance. The Democrats jumped on the “flip flop.”
The Republicans have an issue in their opponents’ relative inexperience in elective offices on the state level.
While Beck and Casagrande won their current seats by substantial margins, that was in their former 12th District.
A further question is how the African-American, Hispanic and, Asian American minority groups, which make up 35 percent of the population in the new 11th District, will vote. It’s possible they could increase the Democratic voting bloc.
Still, this November it is estimated 75 percent of those registered will not even bother to go to the polls.
The power of incumbency and the whims of independent voters are key variables that will affect the outcome in the new 11th District.