After Tough Slog, Campaigning Continues to Bitter End

With just one day until the polls open, the politicians aren’t letting up even though the outcome in some districts seems all but certain

Credit: Menendez campaign
Volunteers for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez gathered in West Orange early on Sunday.
Tomorrow is Election Day and the stakes are high, with control of one or both houses of Congress hinging on the results of races in New Jersey. Also on the ballot are a request to spend $500 million for tech and security upgrades in schools along with ten spots in the state Legislature and numerous county, municipal and school board seats.

The campaign season has been marked by negative campaigning in several districts, with the Senate race ranking among the nastiest in state history. It has also been notable for unusually high levels of interest and activism among citizens not previously involved in politics. The genesis and growth of groups with names that include the terms “indivisible,” “swing left,” or “action” that have been active in red districts, in particular, have helped make the races close in many places.

Four of the five New Jersey House seats that are currently red could flip this election. Nationally, the Democratic Party needs a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the House of Representatives, with some pundits saying New Jersey needs to deliver at least two of those if the party is to be successful.

One flip is a virtual certainty, with all the political raters saying Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew is likely to win the state’s southernmost 2nd district seat currently held by Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican in office since 1995 and who is retiring at the end of his term in January. Van Drew, a conservative Democrat who has represented part of the district in the state Legislature for the last 16 years, is facing Seth Grossman, an Atlantic City attorney and avid Trump supporter who early on lost the backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee over his “bigotry.” Also in the race are four independent candidates.

The Sherrill advantage

Mikie Sherrill, Democratic Party candidate in the 11th Congressional District
Another race considered “likely” to go Democratic is north Jersey’s 11th, where Republican Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen is also retiring after 24 years. Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot, is leading Republican state Assemblyman Jay Webber in both the polls and in fundraising. Sherrill is among the top 20 House money raisers in the nation, having taken in some $7.9 million through Friday. Webber only raised $1.5 million. That advantage has allowed Sherrill to air multiple ads, make her name known, and dominate in a district that has been red for decades. Two independents are also on the ballot.

The other two House races are closer, deemed toss-ups by the political raters.

Republican Leonard Lance is in the fight of his career in his quest to keep the seat he has held for nearly a decade. The 7th District in north-central Jersey was one of the earliest targeted by Democrats because it was one of 25 in the nation that backed Hillary Clinton while also electing a Republican to Congress in 2016.

Democrat Tom Malinowski, an assistant secretary of state under President Barack Obama, holds a slim lead in the latest polls. Like Democrats in all the House races, Malinowski has outraised and outspent Lance. While the incumbent has tried to portray the challenger as a carpetbagger, Malinowski has highlighted Lance’s long record of voting with the right wing of the GOP, which changed after Trump took office and Lance was targeted by progressive groups. Two independents are also on the ballot.

Credit: NJTV News
U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3rd) is in a close battle to retain his seat.
Probably the closest race is in the 3rd district in Burlington and Ocean counties. Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur and Democrat Andy Kim, who worked for six years in national security roles under Obama, have each led in recent polls. Healthcare has been a major issue in this district — which has a large senior-citizen population — particularly since MacArthur was one of the authors of the GOP’s failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. MacArthur has accused Kim of being dishonest about his résumé and other issues and contended Kim has no specific proposals for dealing with healthcare. One independent is also on the ballot.

Reliably red at the Shore

While Democrat Joshua Welle has outspent longtime Republican incumbent Chris Smith in their 4th district contest, the Shore district is considered reliably red and not likely to flip. There are five independents on the ballot here.

There’s only one Democratic-controlled district considered to be a close, the 5th in northwest Jersey, but freshman Rep. Josh Gottheimer is favored to win re-election in a district that used to be reliably red. Gottheimer has raised 10 times more than Republican John McCann, a lawyer. Also on the ballot are two independents.

There’s been little action in New Jersey’s remaining six districts, all expected to remain safely blue.

The same can’t be said for the state’s U.S. Senate seat on the ballot.

Although U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a two-term incumbent, has led in every independent poll to date, some of the margins have been small and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has been worried enough that his Senate Majority PAC has spent $7.6 million in ads against Republican Bob Hugin to help counter the nearly $39 million in the challenger’s coffers. Hugin has spent $36 million of his own money on the race, making him the second biggest self-funder in the nation in this year’s races.

Menendez, Hugin seek friendly faces

Credit: Hugin campaign
Republican Senate candidate Bob Hugin, right, campaigned in South Jersey on Sunday.
Both Menendez and Hugin spent the weekend travelling to friendly communities to pump voters up to try to get them to go to the polls.

Hugin, the former pharmaceuticals executive, started Friday night in Morris County, swung through nine counties, ending Sunday night in Atlantic County. Republican House representatives and such state lawmakers as Sen. Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, both of Union County, appeared with Hugin at some stops.

Hugin also faced some controversy when the wife of 12th District GOP candidate Daryl Kipnis charged the candidate snapped at her and her daughters at a campaign rally where Hugin and Kipnis were appearing and prohibited them from passing out literature for Kipnis, according to the New Jersey Globe. Hugin reportedly later apologized.

Menendez was in Woodbury Friday night but spent the rest of the weekend in blue north Jersey strongholds in Passaic, Essex, Hudson and Middlesex counties, ending Sunday night with a women’s rally in Plainfield. He traveled at many stops with the state’s highest profile Democrats, including fellow Sen. Cory Booker and Gov. Phil Murphy. At one stop Booker, always adept at firing up a crowd, implored people to vote, saying, “We know we have a great Senator in Washington in Bob Menendez. We know he has enough votes. But he will not win if you just sit home and pray … The only way he will win is if we get out and vote and bring our families and our friends.”

They keep on swinging

Credit: Menendez campaign
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez addressed supporters in Jersey City on Sunday.
The campaigning continues today with both candidates having full schedules. Menendez plans to swing through Bergen, Passaic, Middlesex and Union counties, ending with a get-out-the-vote rally with iron workers in Perth Amboy. Hugin, meanwhile, plans to start today off at a nontraditional GOP location, a union hall in Parsippany, and end with a rally in Clark.

Six independent candidates are also running for the Senate.

$500M ballot question

The only public question on the November ballot this year asks voters whether they support the issuance of $500 million in bonds to pay for the expansion of career-training facilities at both the high school and county college level, as well as to fund improvements to K-12 school security and drinking-water systems across the state. Lawmakers in both parties and a number of business organizations back the question, though there are rumblings that some think adding this much additional debt to the state’s already high burden would be a mistake.

In addition to the statewide and federal offices on the ballot, there are candidates running to fill 10 unexpired terms in the Legislature. All but one is contested. This is an unusually high number of openings for a federal election year, and is largely the result of Murphy’s hiring a large number of lawmakers for state jobs. Senate or Assembly seats are on the ballot in parts of Bergen, Camden, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic, Somerset and Union counties.

Full election coverage is available on NJ Spotlight’s elections web page. In addition to stories on the major races, there are links to finding one’s congressional district, seeing if one is registered to vote, watching the four debates televised by NJTV on the Senate race and Districts 3, 7 and 11, and other information.

We’re in this together
For a better-informed future. Support our nonprofit newsroom.
Donate to NJ Spotlight