What’s to Come in the Fight for Assembly Seats

A preview of November’s State Assembly elections and where party leaders will target

New Jersey State Assembly elections are just over two months away, and the name of the game this year for party leaders is to pick up as many of the 80 seats in the lower house of the Legislature as possible.

NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron spoke with the leaders of both parties in the Assembly — Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) and Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) — about the issues, strategies and goals for November.

While neither man revealed which districts his party is targeting, it’s pretty clear where the action is going to be.

Democrats currently hold a 54 to 26 majority, a gap that’s too wide for Republicans to close in one year, so the party’s efforts will likely focus on flipping seats in four districts: 1, 11, 16 and 38. Democrats are also expected to set their sights on taking seats in four districts: 8, 21, 25 and 39. Each district has four candidates competing for two Assembly seats.

Distinct visions for the future of the state separate both parties in the upcoming election.

“Democrats have been in control for 17 years, with 140 new taxes. If you want to change Trenton — they talk about changing a candidate — I think you better change who’s running the Legislature,” said Bramnick.

“This is an election that’s going to be based on whether people think the agenda we’ve advanced is right for the state of New Jersey. Now, I’m really proud of that, and I think on merit that if you went through the things that we have done for working middle-class families in the state of New Jersey, I think there can be no other conclusion but to send us back and continue to give Democrats control,” said Coughlin.

Issues like minimum wage and taxes separate the parties

While Coughlin cited raising the minimum wage, equal pay, gun control measures and women’s health as issues he’ll be facing head on, Bramnick said it’s all about taxes and spending.

“The people of New Jersey understand that if you continue to raise taxes, you continue to have unlimited spending in Trenton, you’re not gonna fix the fundamental problems in this state. Even Steve Sweeney said that our fiscal situation is a nightmare. He just doesn’t have enough Republicans to help him with the votes needed to change the policy,” said Bramnick.

Coughlin, on the other hand, rejects the tax-and-spend label. “Our agenda is one that we’re proud to run on, and I think it’s one that’s going to — the people of New Jersey are ultimately going to say ‘you got it right,’” he said.

Seton Hall political science professor Matt Hale thinks another factor in the election is the rift between Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“With the Democrats controlling the governor and both houses in the state and Trump being wildly unpopular, I think you could say this would be an opportunity for Democrats to do some pickups, but unfortunately, because they keep fighting with each other down in Trenton, I’m not sure that’s gonna happen. I think Republicans can point to a, sort of, dysfunctional Trenton and maybe keep their seats,” said Hale.

The last time the Assembly was at the top of the ticket in 2015, just 22 percent of registered voters turned out. Both parties are looking to use the 2015 election’s low turnout numbers as motivation to work harder and hope for a stronger showing this time around.