Last spring’s redistricting made for a lot of movement in this traditionally Republican territory. Whether it will be enough to give the Democrats a shot is the big question.
In the battle for the Senate, incumbent Republican Joseph Pennacchio faces two challengers: Democrat Wasim Kahn, a medical researcher who has been beaten once before by Pennacchio, and Independent Joseph Scafa of Rockaway Township.
Pennacchio, a dentist, has been in Trenton for the past decade, initially as an assemblyman.
The contest for the lower house pits Assembly Republican leader Alex DeCroce, a 21-year veteran, and Jay Webber, who replaced Pennacchio when he moved to the Senate in 2008, against Democrats Elliot Isibor, an educator, and Joseph Raich, a limousine driver.
The Green Party is also fielding a candidate, Michael Spector, who is retired.
Voter registration data for the June primary shows a slight boost for Democrats and a dip for Republicans and unaffiliated, but the changes are not significant. Republicans still outnumber Democrats 47,293 to 31,058, with unafilliateds the plurality at 63,472.
In the redistricting shuffle the 26th traded six heavily Republican Morris County municipalities for four Essex County communities (Fairfield, North Caldwell, Verona, and West Caldwell) that lean Democratic and two Morris GOP municipalities (Jefferson and Rockaway Township).
Still, Jefferson and Rockaway Township each have more than 10,000 registered voters, more than the Essex communities that were added to the district. Parsippany in Morris and West Milford in Passaic remain the most populous and both also lean Republican.
Pennacchio, who is completing his first term in the Senate, said the Republicans are not taking anything for granted.
“There is always a concern when you have a whole bunch of new people,” he said, estimating that about 35 percent of the people in the district just moved into the 26th. “We have to introduce ourselves to a lot of new people.”
Half of the eight candidates running for both houses hail from Parsippany, a heavily developed township that has flirted with Democrats at the local level but always seems to vote Republicans into the legislature.
In 2007, the last time the state Senate topped the ballot, Pennacchio beat Kahn by almost 2-to-1. The margins for DeCroce and Webber in a seven-man field were almost as good. Spector was also on that ballot, polling 971.
The Democrats know they have their work cut out for them.
Kahn said he would not be surprised if Pennacchio polls 60 percent in the election. But most likely, three-quarters of those registered to vote will stay home.
“Voter apathy is an issue,” Kahn said. “How can people expect those in Trenton to get what they want done if they don’t participate?”
Spector, who is from Parsippany, says he supports property tax relief and public works jobs to help the unemployed.