Opinion: Outlook is Bleak for Republican Party in NJ

Carl Golden | April 10, 2019 | Opinion
The trend in voter registration suggests the GOP will stay mired in perpetual minority party status

Carl Golden
Should the current voter registration trend continue — and the odds are it will — New Jersey is in a position to solidify its role as one of the most reliably Democratic states in the nation.

According to the State Division of Elections, as of last month, the registration edge enjoyed by the Democratic Party over the Republican Party had inched near the 1 million mark — 2,240,628 to 1,293,604 — a gap of 947,000.

Even worse news for Republicans: Democratic registration has drawn closer to the unaffiliated voter registration and now is within just over 147,000 of it, an unmistakable sign that Republicans are losing the contest for the hearts and minds of the independent bloc of voters, historically the battleground for electoral dominance.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in only six counties — Cape May, Hunterdon, Morris, Ocean, Sussex and Warren — and by a cumulative total of 140,000.

In four counties — Cape May, Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren — Republicans outnumber the unaffiliated and by scant margins of less than 3,000.

Democrats’ numerical advantage

Democrats outnumber unaffiliated in five counties — Camden, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson and Mercer.

In five counties — Camden, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex and Union — Democrat registration exceeds Republican by more than 100,000.

The greatest disparity — 214,601 — is in Essex County while the smallest — 1,729 — is in Monmouth County.

Registration has shifted steadily toward Democrats for several years, both through in-migration and a more aggressive registration campaign particularly aimed at first-time voters.

Raw registration numbers obviously do not automatically translate into votes. It is not monolithic and minds can be changed.

GOP competitive in gubernatorial races

The Republican Party, for instance, has been competitive in gubernatorial elections — winning four of the last nine (Bill Cahill, Tom Kean, Christie Whitman and Chris Christie) and re-electing three of those four (Kean, Whitman and Christie). In that period, only one Democratic governor (Brendan Byrne) succeeded in a re-election bid.

Elsewhere, though, the history is grim, indeed.

A Republican candidate has not won a U. S. Senate election since 1972; the 2018 election produced an 11-1 edge in the state’s House of Representatives delegation, and Democrats control both houses of the Legislature by comfortable margins.

The glimmer of optimism that the four first-term Democrats in the House — Mikie Sherrill
(11th District), Tom Malinowski (7th District), Andy Kim (3rd District) and Jeff Van Drew (1st District) — could be vulnerable next year is a triumph of wishful hope over cold experience.

With a deeply unpopular President Trump heading the ticket, Republican challengers face a steep climb to unseat any one of the four. Sherrill, Malinowski, Kim and Van Drew sit in Congress today largely because of the backlash against Trump and he is viewed even less favorably now.

The two U. S. Senate seats held by Democrats for nearly a half century are destined to remain that way. Only three times since 1978 has a Republican Senate candidate come within a single-digit loss; the others have been largely one-sided outcomes decided early on election evening.

Legislative redistricting

While legislative redistricting will take place following the 2020 federal census, a configuration which could open a path for Republican inroads is unlikely. There are currently less than a half dozen districts that could be considered competitive and a favorable impact on Republican candidates of newly-drawn district lines will be minimal, if not actually increase the Democratic advantage.

It is an altogether bleak outlook for the state Republican Party, mired in perpetual minority party status and with little to grasp to pull itself out.

Its hopes are largely pinned on a landslide presidential or gubernatorial election and the long coattails that would provide. Even then, there is no guarantee of success; witness 2013 when a Republican governor won re-election with 60-plus percent of the vote, while two legislative seats changed hands and Democrats maintained solid control. Wave elections are not common occurrences.

The party is caught in a catch-22, desperate to raise funds to become competitive but struggling to convince donors who are reluctant to be generous because the party isn’t competitive.

The dilemma extends to candidate recruitment as well. It is extraordinarily difficult to convince qualified individuals to take on the challenge of running against an entrenched incumbent without a pledge of significant party funding and organizational assistance.

The memory is still fresh of last year’s Republican Senate candidate who spent some $40 million and lost by 10 points to a Democrat who’d beaten a federal corruption rap by the grace of a deadlocked jury.

Party building is a long, arduous and costly process, made even longer, more difficult and more expensive when starting from a voter registration deficit approaching 1 million and in a state in which support for Democrats has become so deeply ingrained that it’s taken its place among those whose reliability is an absolute.