Advantage: Blue — Dems Rake in Three Times as Much Campaign Cash as GOP

Money may not be everything, but when it comes to New Jersey legislative races it could be deciding factor statewide

New Jersey Democratic legislative candidates have raised more than three times as much money as Republicans, giving them another boost in their efforts to capture a half-dozen additional seats in the state Assembly next month.

An analysis of campaign finance data released Wednesday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission shows Democrats with a fundraising advantage in 28 of the 40 legislative districts, including two currently held by Republicans, as of October 4, the first filing deadline for the general election. Democrats have targeted both of those districts — the 8th based in Burlington County and the 25th in Morris — to flip to blue.

In total, Democrats across the state took in $11 million with 29 days to go before the election, compared with $3.3 million raised by Republicans, according to a report by ELEC. Candidates had spent about half of what they took in, leaving Democrats with a cash advantage of about $5.3 million to Republicans’ $1.9 million.

The Democrats’ money advantage is not surprising, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“Republicans have been behind the eight ball since (former Gov.) Chris Christie left them high and dry,” Murray said. “Democrats are going to have money to pour into all the races they are targeting.”

These are traditionally red districts that became more competitive after the 2016 presidential election: the 8th, the 25th and the 21st, based in Union County, where Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick is fighting to keep his seat. Republicans won relatively narrow victories in the 2017 legislative elections in those districts and last year, the larger areas that include them sent Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives — in two cases, unseating Republican incumbents.

So far, candidates have spent more this year than four years ago, when the Assembly last topped the ballot, but total spending is more than a third lower than in 2015. That’s because there has been comparatively little spending by independent groups: ELEC reports that just two groups — the pro-Democrat General Majority PAC and the New Jersey Education Association’s Garden State Forward — spent $728,000 through October 4, versus $5.4 million as of 29 days before the 2015 election.

But it’s still early, noted Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s executive director.

“In some elections, the heaviest spending comes during the last week or two of the campaign,” he said. “However, it also could be that most of this year’s races are not viewed as very competitive. Both parties and independent groups may be saving their campaign dollars until next year, when presidential and congressional elections will take place.”

Million-dollar candidates

So far, candidates in three districts have raised about $1 million or more. Only in the 21st was spending close to topping $1 million through October 4, with both the GOP incumbents and Democratic challengers already running ads on cable TV.

Bramnick led all candidates with a total $577,000 raised. His district mate, Nancy Munoz, had brought in $126,000. Their Democratic opponents, Stacey Gunderman and Lisa Mandelblatt, had a combined $537,000. And two conservatives running as independents — Martin Marks and Harris Pappas — had raised more than $13,000, roughly 80 percent of the total raised by all independents statewide.

Matthew Hale, associate professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University, said this is the most expensive race in the state because it is so close and Marks and Pappas are a major reason that is the case.

“They are not going to win, but in a close election, they could actually be the difference by peeling off some hard-core conservatives who would otherwise vote for Bramnick and Munoz,” said Hale. “If Bramnick and Munoz lose, it will because of that right-wing attack as much as Democratic strength.”

The other races worth almost $1 million are the 11th in Monmouth County, which used to be a Republican stronghold but where the Democratic incumbents are expected to win, and the southernmost 1st District, where Democrats are working to defend all three seats as a special election to fill an unexpired Senate term is also on the ballot.

Having more money helps Democrats to both attack in the three districts where Republican incumbents are considered vulnerable and defend in those where Democratic Assembly members could face difficult challenges.

“Democrats have done a significant job in the past few years ramping up the early vote, through vote-by-mail ballots,” Murray said. “That has helped them.”

Money: the best defense

In those districts Democrats are defending, they had a clear money advantage going into the last month of the campaign.

For instance, in the 1st, the incumbents had $223,000 on hand as of October 4, compared with less than $100,000 for the Republican challengers. Just north of that, in the 2nd District, which includes Atlantic City, the Democratic incumbents had an even greater money lead — $170,000 versus $59,000. In the 11th, where Democrats had raised 95% of the $957,000 in total contributions, the incumbents had 11 times more in cash on hand than their Republican challengers. And in the 16th in central Jersey, the Democratic incumbents had 40 times more money than their GOP opponents, even after having spent $687,000.

“I do think in off-year Assembly races, money, combined with knowledge of how to spend it, suggests Democrats might have a good election cycle,” Hale said. “I think that the 11th and 16th districts are examples of this.  Democrats really have an opportunity to flip these seats for good.”

On the other hand, he said that money becomes less important when there is local campaign infrastructure, local name recognition and family history, which means “the money advantages we see for Democrats in the 8th and 25th do not necessarily mean those seats will flip.”

While the Democratic challengers raised almost twice as much as the Republicans in the 8th District, they spent 2 1/2 times more, leaving them with a slight cash disadvantage as of October 4. Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale had $122,000, while incumbent Assemblyman Ryan Peters and his running mate Jean Stanfield had $132,000 in the race for control of this split district, which currently has Republican Assembly members and a Democratic senator.

In the 25th, Democratic challengers Darcy Draeger and Lisa Bhimani had raised about $40,000 more than Republicans Anthony Bucco and Brian Bergen and outspent them 4-to-1, leaving the Democrats with just $16,000, compared to the Republicans’ $220,000 war chest. There could be another dynamic at work in this district, though, as Bucco was just chosen by a Republican party convention to take his late father’s seat in the state Senate. Sen. Anthony R. Bucco died last month, creating the opening in the upper house. Because the deadline for putting a candidate on the ballot has passed, Anthony M. Bucco’s name will remain on the Assembly ballot even though he is set to be sworn in next week as a state senator.

Battleground districts

The seven battlegrounds are among the eight most expensive races this year, according to ELEC. The seventh most expensive race, nosing past the 2nd District contest, is the 19th District. While Republicans have not reported raising any money in that Middlesex County Democratic stronghold, it is the home district of Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, who was the fourth-largest fundraiser in the state, having collected about $509,000.

“Battleground districts always dominate spending,” said Brindle. “Spending in most other districts around the state is lighter because incumbents of both parties face little risk of losing due to redistricting.”

Most of the state’s 40 districts are dominated by either Democratic or Republican voters, making it hard for a challenger from the minority party to win a seat. Over the past decade, Democratic voter registration has pulled far ahead of the GOP, which is in the minority in both houses of the Legislature and in New Jersey’s seats in the House. Republican candidates did not report any fundraising in 17 legislative districts, while Democrats had no contributions in four.

Democrats currently hold a 54-to-26 margin in the Assembly, but would like to increase that. They also dominate the Senate, holding 26 seats, and are defending the only Senate seat on the ballot in the 1st District contest between incumbent Bob Andrzejczak and Republican Mike Testa.

The candidates have one more pre-election finance report to submit, 11 days before the November 5 balloting.

Campaign Activity Through October 4 Ranked by Total Contributions
DistrictCandidate or committeePartyIncumbent or Challenger Contributions Expenditures Cash on hand
21BRAMNICK, JON RI $576,755 $438,921 $137,834
36SCHAER, GARY S DI $570,485 $95,012 $475,473
1ANDRZEJCZAK* LAND & MILAMDI/I/I $569,905 $351,160 $218,746
19COUGHLIN, CRAIG J DI $508,943 $356,704 $152,238
11HOUGHTALING & DOWNEYDI/I $470,624 $418,206 $52,418
16ZWICKER & FREIMANDI/I $421,246 $364,797 $56,449
14DEANGELO, WAYNE P DI $338,333 $113,728 $224,606
21MANDELBLATT & GUNDERMAN FOR ASSEMBLYDC/C $337,147 $298,533 $38,614
8LAPLACA & NATALEDC/C $336,316 $225,026 $111,290
25BHIMANI & DRAEGERDC/C $329,287 $318,666 $10,621
1TESTA, MIKE* RC $303,569 $232,688 $70,881
6GREENWALD, LOUIS D DI $303,033 $109,773 $193,259
3BURZICHELLI, JOHN J DI $290,524 $51,868 $238,656
12DANCER, RONALD S RI $271,021 $7,116 $263,905
11HOUGHTALING, ERIC DI $259,042 $212,413 $46,630
20QUIJANO, ANNETTE DI $252,980 $55,976 $197,004
15VERRELLI, ANTHONY S DI $248,225 $54,156 $194,069
28CAPUTO, RALPH R DI $239,739 $27,816 $211,923
25BUCCO, ANTHONY M RI $232,538 $41,871 $190,668
27MCKEON, JOHN F DI $232,202 $76,132 $156,071
2MAZZEO & ARMATO FOR ASSEMBLYDI/I $223,472 $187,240 $36,232
38SWAIN AND TULLYDI/I $207,565 $144,661 $62,904
34GIBLIN, THOMAS P DI $206,884 $39,956 $166,928
33MUKHERJI, RAJ DI $195,178 $18,682 $176,496
16FREIMAN, ROY DI $192,809 $166,261 $26,548
29PINTOR MARIN, ELIANA DI $191,740 $88,912 $102,827
36CALABRESE, CLINTON DI $191,585 $26,025 $165,559
18KARABINCHAK, ROBERT DI $183,605 $27,772 $155,833
11DOWNEY, JOANN DI $183,403 $112,336 $71,067
14BENSON, DANIEL R DI $172,481 $130,631 $41,850
16ZWICKER, ANDREW DI $171,361 $155,715 $15,646
8PETERS, RYAN RI $169,533 $81,253 $88,280
3TALIAFERRO, ADAM DI $168,591 $107,464 $61,127
26WEBBER, JAY RI $167,399 $33,673 $133,726
39BIRKNER & FALOTICO FOR ASSEMBLYDC/C $162,363 $91,855 $70,508
26FORTGANG, LAURA DC $160,319 $82,259 $78,060
35SUMTER, SHAVONDA E DI $154,523 $43,522 $111,001
4MORIARTY, PAUL D DI $146,953 $41,933 $105,020
21MANDELBLATT, LISA DC $145,339 $139,839 $5,500
18PINKIN, NANCY DI $141,165 $29,009 $112,156
39SCHEPISI, HOLLY T RI $128,941 $45,382 $83,559
24WIRTHS, HAROLD J RI $127,342 $14,155 $113,187
21MUNOZ, NANCY RI $125,625 $26,914 $98,710
2MAZZEO, VINCENT DI $119,378 $42,473 $76,906
27JASEY, MILA M DI $116,668 $50,397 $66,272
37VAINIERI HUTTLE, VALERIE DI $115,055 $61,803 $53,252
8STANFIELD, JEAN RC $113,242 $69,240 $44,002
8LAPLACA, GINA DC $103,628 $99,747 $3,881
2ARMATO, JOHN DI $99,400 $42,075 $57,325
19LOPEZ, YVONNE M DI $98,441 $16,553 $81,889
17DANIELSEN, JOE DI $88,932 $29,686 $59,246
26DECROCE, BETTYLOU RI $83,722 $27,822 $55,901
6LAMPITT, PAMELA R DI $83,164 $39,258 $43,906
22KENNEDY, JAMES DI $82,986 $2,600 $80,386
13SCHARFENBERGER, GERARD RC $79,131 $10,390 $68,742
7MURPHY, CAROL DI $77,474 $41,253 $36,221
37JOHNSON, GORDON M DI $75,851 $39,761 $36,091
8NATALE, MARK DC $66,989 $60,562 $6,427
30THOMSON, EDWARD H RI $66,557 $20,385 $46,172
5SPEARMAN, WILLIAM W DI $66,226 $9,203 $57,023
31CHIARAVALLOTI, NICHOLAS A DI $63,549 $28,002 $35,546
38SWAIN, LISA DI $63,044 $22,352 $40,692
4MOSQUERA, GABRIELA M DI $55,068 $27,076 $27,992
21GUNDERMAN, STACEY DC $54,388 $52,450 $1,938
39AUTH, ROBERT J RI $53,667 $41,394 $12,273
26CLARKE, CHRISTINE DC $50,218 $22,570 $27,647
40ROONEY, KEVIN J RI $49,738 $2,819 $46,919
30KEAN, SEAN T RI $49,066 $21,094 $27,972
15REYNOLDS JACKSON, VERLINA DI $48,747 $12,235 $36,512
9RUMPF & GOVERI/I $47,810 $13,332 $34,478
7CONAWAY, HERB DI $47,433 $22,009 $25,425
38TULLY, CHRISTOPHER DI $46,698 $22,309 $24,389
10MCGUCKIN, GREGORY P RI $45,665 $6,501 $39,164
10DELLA VOLLE, EILEEN DC $45,375 $7,432 $37,943
22CARTER, LINDA DI $45,053 $10,806 $34,247
20HOLLEY, JAMEL C DI $44,168 $42,986 $1,182
5MOEN, WILLIAM F JRDC $41,981 $10,917 $31,064
1SIMONSEN & MCCLELLANRC/C $40,858 $17,751 $23,107
1ANDRZEJCZAK, BOB* DI $40,232 $38,833 $1,399
23DIMAIO, JOHN RI $40,195 $5,880 $34,315
16CALIGUIRE, MARK RC $38,020 $36,066 $1,954
24LYKINS, DEANA DC $37,888 $23,152 $14,737
12LANDE, DAVID H DC $37,169 $11,978 $25,191
24SPACE, F PARKER RI $36,430 $3,039 $33,392
16CALIGUIRE & MADRIDRC/C $35,148 $34,656 $492
2GUENTHER/RISLEYRC/C $34,988 $7,491 $27,498
40DEPHILLIPS, CHRISTOPHER P RI $33,656 $4,351 $29,306
13DIMASO, SERENA RI $32,762 $16,617 $16,145
25BUCCO & BERGEN FOR ASSEMBLYRI/C $32,220 $23,593 $8,627
34TIMBERLAKE, BRITNEE N DI $32,120 $20,019 $12,100
12CLIFTON, ROBERT D RI $32,075 $10,985 $21,091
27MCKEON & JASEYDI/I $30,979 $13,425 $17,554
40MARTINI CORDONNIER, MARIA DC $30,810 $4,118 $26,692
25BERGEN, BRIAN RC $27,312 $6,896 $20,416
11WOOLLEY, MATTHEW C RC $26,704 $15,011 $11,693
40ROONEY & DEPHILLIPSRI/I $21,061 $3,442 $17,619
2GUENTHER, PHILIP J RC $21,024 $3,656 $17,368
31MCKNIGHT, ANGELA V DI $18,699 $9,905 $8,793
2RISLEY, JOHN W JRRC $17,909 $3,652 $14,257
23PETERSON, ERIK RI $17,046 $1,983 $15,063
11AMOROSO, MICHAEL RC $16,777 $13,047 $3,731
10CATALANO, JOHN RC $15,650 $5,637 $10,013
10WHEELER, ERIN DC $15,238 $2,598 $12,640
15WILLIAMS, JENNIFER RC $15,011 $9,695 $5,316
1LAND, R BRUCE DI $14,692 $13,293 $1,399
1MILAM, MATTHEW W DI $13,592 $12,193 $1,399
21MARKS AND PAPPASIC/C $13,250 $4,238 $9,012
10MCGUCKIN & CATALANORI/C $11,931 $1,931 $10,000
12GUHA, MALINI DC/C $8,986 $3,528 $5,458
18BENGIVENGA, ROBERT A JRRC $8,965 $- $8,965
7MILLER, PETER H RC $7,925 $7,925 $-
27TUCCI, MAURO G JRRC $7,632 $3,037 $4,595
25DRAEGER, DARCY DC $5,000 $- $5,000
24LYKINS & SMITHDC/C $4,188 $85 $4,103
23DIMAIO & PETERSONRI/I $3,615 $- $3,615
7COOLEY, KATHLEEN IC $3,450 $227 $3,223
39FALOTICO, GERALD DC $3,000 $- $3,000
20DONNELLY, CHARLES RC $2,950 $449 $2,501
10HOLMES, IAN IC $154 $- $154
20QUIJANO & HOLLEYDI/I $21 $21 $-
Notes: Only candidates who filed a report and raised any money are listed; * Indicates a Senate candidate