Over the past three days of the campaign, candidates for New Jersey’s House and Senate races ramped up their efforts, buying air time for ads and sending last-minute flyers, robocalling registered voters, announcing endorsements, seeking contributions, and pressing the flesh.
In the race for one of the state’s Senate seats, Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez attended a get-out-the-vote rally in Plainfield with Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Donald Payne Jr., and Albio Sires. Meanwhile, Republican frontrunner Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceuticals executive, and his campaign team bragged about knocking on more than 15,000 doors. Menendez’s challenger Lisa McCormick, a local media publisher, attended the Left Forum for progressives, while Hugin’s opponent Brian Goldberg attended a Senate forum in Jersey City.
House candidates, especially in the closely watched races in the 7th and 11th Districts in north and central Jersey, kept equally busy.
New Jersey’s largest field of federal primary candidates in decades — 49 House candidates and four Senate hopefuls — is giving voters a choice for office throughout the state, but will people show up today?
The tale of the turnout
Turnout has declined to very low numbers. In 2014, the last time the U.S. Senate race topped the ticket, slightly more than 416,000 New Jerseyans cast ballots in the June primary. That represented just 8 percent of the 5.5 million registered, including those unaffiliated, and about 13 percent of those registered as Democrats or Republicans. In New Jersey’s primary, voters choose candidates from the party they’re registered with. Unaffiliated voters can cast ballots by declaring for one party or the other on Election Day, when polls across the state will be open between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.
But an uptick in interest following the 2016 presidential election led to the formation of a number of citizen groups working to generate interest in issues and the races and, in several congressional districts, to try to flip representation from red to blue. Several of these groups, as well as the candidates, have launched get-out-the-vote efforts that might lead to higher turnout. This year, 5.8 million residents are registered to vote, about 37 percent as Democrats, 21 percent as Republicans, and nearly all the rest unaffiliated.
In addition to the challenges for the Democratic and Republican nominations for the Senate, there are contests in one or both parties in all but three of the state’s dozen House districts, which could also motivate voters. At the state level, the ballot also includes four filled Assembly seats, representing parts of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, and Passaic counties; none of these has a contested primary.
New Jersey’s candidates for federal office had raised more than $40 million and spent almost $19 million through May 16, though those figures will likely be much higher by the end of Election Day. About 40 percent of the money is being spent in the Senate race, where Hugin continues to run ads attacking Menendez, even though he is not yet the GOP primary winner.
“Obviously we are not a multimillionaire so we are not having ads up on the air,” Menendez said on Monday during a break in his campaigning. “I’ve been doing a lot of get out the vote efforts, just reaching out to voters, at the same time I am doing my job … What I’m focused on is fighting for the people of New Jersey against a Trump administration that has New Jersey in the crosshairs.”
NJ Spotlight’s Primaries 2018 page includes information on how to find out where to vote, and in which Congressional District you live, as well as stories on the contested races and on the candidates’ campaign coffers — including a database for searching individual contributors to all those running.
The contests up close
Here is a snapshot of the contests:
1st District: Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross, in his fourth year in the House, faces two primary opponents in this South Jersey district that includes Camden. He has spent close to $850,000 as he runs against Scot John Tomaszewski, an electrical contractor who has lost to Norcross twice in the past, and Robert Lee Carlson, an information technology director. There is no contest on the GOP side.
2nd District: There are crowded fields in both parties for this open seat — incumbent Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo is retiring — in this sprawling district that covers all or parts of the eight southernmost counties.
On the Democratic side, state Sen. Jeff Van Drew is considered the frontrunner, having been endorsed by all eight county party committees and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and raised almost four times more than all three of his opponents combined. The other candidates — retired teacher Tanzie Youngblood, former congressional staffer William Cunningham and activist Nate Kleinman — are making their cases as progressives and criticizing Van Drew’s conservative views. The American Conservative Union Foundation recently rated Van Drew the most conservative Democrat in the state Legislature, voting with conservatives 36 percent of the time.
On the Republican side, engineer Hirsh Singh, an unsuccessful gubernatorial primary candidate last year, received the endorsement of half of the district’s GOP county organizations and has outspent his three challengers by more than 500 percent. Former Assemblyman Samuel Fiocchi won the Cape May County Republicans’ nomination, and Robert Turkavage, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent in 2012, was endorsed by the Cumberland County GOP. The fourth candidate is Seth Grossman, a lawyer and former Atlantic County freeholder. Three of the four said they would support the Trump administration’s agenda in Washington, with Turkavage calling for consensus in Congress and smaller government.
4th District: Two Democrats are vying for the right to take on Republican Rep. Chris Smith in November in this district that covers most of Monmouth County and parts of Mercer and Ocean. Josh Welle, a combat veteran and owner of a software engineering firm, is squaring off against Jim Keady, a liberal activist, tavern owner, and former teacher who is perhaps most famous for once being told to “sit down and shut up” by former Gov. Chris Christie.
Keady, a former Asbury Park councilman, ran unsuccessfully in the neighboring 3rd District primary two years ago and has criticized Welle for only recently moving back into the district to run for the seat. Welle recently won the endorsement of the grassroots progressive group Action Together New Jersey that formed after the 2016 election.
5th District: This district covering northwest Jersey has a Republican primary featuring frequent candidate Steve Lonegan and John McCann Jr., a lawyer and general counsel to the New Jersey Sheriffs Association.
Lonegan, who ran for Congress unsuccessfully in the 3rd District in South Jersey four years ago, has loaned his campaign $1 million and is running television ads touting his support for Trump and his policies. McCann has been outspent 6-to-1 and is mostly running web ads. The back and forth between the two has been nasty, with McCann calling on Lonegan to leave the race over a homophobic slur he used against a Bogota councilman a decade ago and Lonegan putting McCann’s face on a photo of Bigfoot to criticize him for being a “fake Republican.”
The winner will face incumbent freshman Joshua Gottheimer, a Democrat who won the formerly red district two years ago.
6th District: Longtime Rep. Frank Pallone is facing a challenge from Javahn Walker, a Rutgers economics graduate working as an auditor, in this district that includes New Brunswick and Asbury Park. While Pallone has spent more than $900,000, Walker has not filed any reports with the Federal Election Commission. Pallone was one of the original sponsors of the Affordable Care Act. Walker has taken progressive positions on such issues as criminal justice reform and taxes.
7th District: Among the most closely watched races in the state, the sprawling 7th, which stretches from Hunterdon and Warren counties east to Essex and Union, features contested primaries for both Democrats and Republicans.
The Republican primary has been relatively quiet. Incumbent Republican Rep. Leonard Lance, in his 10th year in Washington, is not facing the kind of conservative opposition he has overcome in recent years. He has raised $1.2 million but has not even sent out a district wide campaign mailer.
His opponents, Raafat Barsoom, a physician, and Lindsay Brown, a digital project manager, have together spent less than $4,000. Barsoom is an Egyptian immigrant and strong Trump supporter, while Brown says she is a former Democrat but espouses several progressive stances, including a Medicare-for-all health insurance program. Lance has moved left since facing vocal grassroots opposition following the 2016 election and voted against Trump’s major legislative pushes — his tax overhaul and failed attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act. Still, FiveThirtyEight counts him as voting with Trump nearly 89 percent of the time.
Among the Democrats, the frontrunner is Tom Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state under former President Barack Obama, who has received county Democratic party endorsements and has raised $1.2 million. Peter Jacob, a social worker who was the Democratic nominee in 2016 and lost to Lance, and attorney Goutam Jois are the other two candidates. Jacob and Jois are progressives who have criticized Malinowski for being too conservative. Malinowski, a Polish immigrant, has said he is the only candidate who can win in November.
9th District: Democratic incumbent Bill Pascrell Jr. is facing a primary challenge from William O. Henry.
A 22-year member of the House, Pascrell is a reliable supporter of Democratic issues. Henry, who has degrees in social work and substance-abuse counseling, has based his platform on pushing for affordable healthcare. He is the clear underdog, with no campaign funds reported to the FEC, compared with the $1 million raised by Pascrell. This north Jersey district includes Paterson, the home of both candidates.
10th District: Incumbent Donald M. Payne Jr. is facing token opposition in the Democratic primary from Aaron Walter Fraser, a frequent candidate who lives in Jersey City. Payne was first elected in 2012 and serves on the Committee on Homeland Security and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Fraser has not filed any campaign reports with the FEC and does not even have a website, while Payne has raised $364,000. The district includes most of Newark, part of Jersey City and surrounding areas.
11th District: The most crowded and contentious primary fields for both parties are in this north Jersey district that includes Morristown. With the retirement of Republican Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, the winners will battle for an open seat that is considered a tossup, despite decades of Republican rule.
On the Republican side, Frelinghuysen’s announced retirement at the end of January had five candidates scrambling for money and endorsements. Antony Ghee, an investment banker, is the only candidate to receive party backing — from Republicans in Passaic and Essex counties. Assemblyman Jay Webber has raised the most money, more than $400,000, but fellow Morris County resident Peter De Neufville, a technologies expert, has spent about $8,000 more than Webber and is largely self-funding his campaign. Rounding out the contest are Patrick Allocco, a former concert promoter, and Martin Hewitt, an attorney. The candidates have some distinct positions on issues, giving voters some clear choices.
The Democratic primary is also a five-way race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is backing Mikie Sherrill, a Navy veteran from Montclair, whose $2.9 million war chest is the second-largest of any New Jersey House candidate running this year. Financial analyst Tamara Harris of West Orange has raised a significant $709,000. The other candidates are former assistant Attorney General Mitchell Cobert of Morristown, history teacher Mark Washburne of Mendham, and economic sociologist Alison Heslin of Sparta. All the candidates are promoting traditionally Democratic platforms, although Harris has criticized Sherrill as being “Republican-lite.” Sherrill also made news by recently announcing that she would not support California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the current minority leader, to be speaker should the Democrats regain control of the House.