Today, New Jerseyans choose a new governor for the first time in eight years, as well as the state Legislature. Plus, there are county, local, and school board candidates on the ballot, as well as questions regarding library construction funding and the statutory dedication of environmental settlements for that purpose.
Polls across the state are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and voters may not encounter long waits in many places, as predictions are for a low turnout. Voters can find their polling places via this [link:https://voter.njsvrs.com/elections/polling-lookup.htmllink] to the Voting Information Project.
The key race this year is the gubernatorial election, with Chris Christie’s Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican, facing Democrat Phil Murphy, a former Wall Street executive and former ambassador to Germany.
The two have been running hard through the final days of the campaign. Guadagno and her running mate Carlos Rendo completed a four-day bus tour with 60 stops across the state that ended Monday morning at a diner in the Republican bastion of Morris County. Along the way, she picked up the endorsements of former GOP Govs. Christie Whitman and Tom Kean.
Murphy rallied with Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi and union officials, ending his campaigning with get-out-the-vote rallies Monday afternoon in Edison and in Trenton last evening, two Democratic strongholds.
The latest poll in the race, released Monday by Quinnipiac University, had Murphy leading Guadagno by 12 points among likely voters, 53 to 41, but that’s the closet its been since the start of the race. Guadagno switched tactics five weeks ago, deemphasizing her pledge to cut property taxes and attacking Murphy for his views on immigration. It’s unclear whether that message has begun resonating, as the Guadagno camp says it has, but Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said the Republican does not appear to have enough support among unaffiliated voters to beat expectations.
“In blue New Jersey, a Republican who can’t solidly carry independent voters is a candidate unlikely to win a statewide election,” he said. “Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is doing fine among Republicans, but is only breaking even among independents and that doesn’t appear nearly enough to offset Phil Murphy’s overwhelming edge among Democrats.”
Tall order for Guadagno
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, wrote in a Monday blog post that, given the natural 12-point voter registration advantage Democrats have, Guadagno would need to win big in large red counties — Ocean, Monmouth, and Morris — and win at least one good-sized Democratic county in order to prevail.
“Another option would be to padlock every polling place in Hudson County and then put voting booths on the back of pickup trucks to personally visit every registered voter in the rural counties of Hunterdon, Warren, and Sussex,” Murray wrote. “The fact that either scenario is about as likely to happen is pretty much all you need to know about this race.”
Like others, Murray expects a low turnout. Four years ago, when Christie won re-election by a wide margin, just four of 10 registered voters cast ballots. In 2009, Christie’s first election, 47 percent turned out.
Murray gave several reasons why he expects a low turnout. For one, there is the sense that a Democrat winning the governorship is a given, particularly due to the state’s natural Democratic “tendencies and how Christie hurt the Republican brand and bankrupted the GOP organization.” He also said that people have only a limited interest in politics and, at the moment, they are more focused on Donald Trump. There’s also a continuing overall disgust with the political process.
“People are just tired of politics and don’t really think anything will change,” Murray said. “Only the most partisan voters will come out” and the Democrats have a natural advantage. The most recent voter registration data from the state Division of Elections shows New Jersey with 2.1 million Democrats, 1.2 million Republicans and 2.4 million mostly unaffiliated with any party.
Still, both sides are working to get their supporters to cast ballots. In addition to the Democratic parties, both labor organizers and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey have been working to get out the vote for Murphy. Guadagno’s campaign has been offering $10 per hour to those willing to work three-hour shifts to go door to door or make phone calls to get Republicans to the polls.
The race, which included contested primaries for both parties, has been expensive, with $73.2 million raised and $70 million spent by candidates and independent committees in both the primary and general elections through October 24, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. There has been additional spending since then — for instance, Our New Jersey, the Democratic Governors Association’s political committee in the state, reported $435,000 in spending on anti-Guadagno ads on October 25 — but much of that will not be known until the filing of post-election reports.
The two major-party candidates are not the only choices for voters. Five independents are also running for governor: Seth Kaper-Dale is representing the Green Party, the Libertarian is Peter Rohrman, and Matthew Riccardi is the Constitution Party nominee. Gina Genovese is running under the slogan “Reduce Property Taxes” and Vincent Ross’ banner is “We The People.”
All New Jersey voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on two statewide ballot questions. The first asks whether the state should borrow $125 million to fund library capital projects. The second seeks to amend the state constitution to ensure that money New Jersey gets from lawsuits against polluters is only used for environmental purposes and cannot be put into the general budget.
There are many more reasons for people to go to the polls.
All 120 seats in the Legislature are up for grabs. Each district features candidates for Senate and Assembly and in nearly all places, neither major party has conceded the race. Independents are on the ballot in five Senate and 17 Assembly races.
There are several districts where the races are considered especially close.
Doing the districts
In Atlantic County’s 2nd, Democrat Colin Bell, recently named to replace Sen. Jim Whelan, was trailing Republican Chris Brown, the current assemblyman who is looking to move to the upper house, in a Stockton University poll released last Friday. Brown’s slim 3-point lead was within the margin of error and neither candidate had a support of a majority of voters, according to the poll.. The district currently has split representation. Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo and running mate John Armato, both Democrats, had a comfortable lead over GOP challengers Vince Sera and Brenda Taube. Independents Heather Gordon and Mico Lucide are also running for the Assembly.
In the 3rd District, the most expensive legislative race in state history pits the Democratic president of the state Senate, Stephen Sweeney, against Republican Fran Grenier, who is benefitting from an estimated $4.5 million the New Jersey Education Association’s political action committee is spending in the district as part of the union’s grudge against Sweeney. The district is safely blue in most elections, but it’s unclear what effect the NJEA’s money may have. The Assembly seats are not considered at risk, although if a red wave sweeps across the district, it could hurt incumbent Democrats John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro and help challengers Philip Donohue and Linwood Donelson III.
In Monmouth County’s 11th District, which turned purple two years ago, the Democrats are trying to keep control of the two Assembly seats they won by a hair in 2015 and capture the Senate seat as well. Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck is trying to fend off a strong challenge by Democrat Vin Gopal. Incumbent freshmen Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey have raised far more than Republican challengers Michael Whelan and Robert Acerra, but there is independent money being spent here, too. At nearly $4.1 million spent through October 24, the 11th District races are the third most expensive in the state this year, according to ELEC.
The 16th District in Central Jersey, which includes Princeton, is another fierce battleground as the Republicans try to win back the full control they lost two years ago when Democrat Andrew Zwicker’s surprising victory knocked off incumbent Assemblywoman Donna Simon. She is trying to win that seat back, running with Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire. Zwicker is trying to bring fellow Democrat Roy Freiman, a former executive with Prudential Financial, into the Assembly. Republican Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman is seen as in a safer position. Democrat Laurie Poppe is challenging him.
Races could be close in some traditional battleground districts — the southernmost 1st, the 14th in Mercer and Middlesex, and North Jersey’s 38th — and Democrats have also launched some surprisingly strong challenges in traditionally safe GOP territory, including the 23rd and 24th in the northwest and 39th and 40th in the north.
Rounding out the balloting across the state are races for county freeholders and other seats, mayors and municipal governing bodies and 1,550 seats on 530 school districts, as well as eight school public questions.
NJ Spotlight’s Elections page has information on all the state races, including candidates’ positions on issues. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has information online regarding voters’ rights and also operates a hotline 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) to help anyone who believes they are wrongly denied the right to vote or must to appear before an election judge to determine his eligibility for voting.