New Jersey’s delayed primary is finally over, and while thousands of votes are still to be counted, many key races already have been decided.
The most surprising result is the win by Amy Kennedy, education director of the Kennedy Forum and wife of former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, in the hotly contested 2nd District Democratic primary. Kennedy’s main opponent, Brigid Callahan Harrison, conceded shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday in a race that had been expected to be too close to call on Election Night.
This sets off a battle that has already drawn national attention, with Kennedy trying to regain for the Democrats the seat it held for less than a year — from January 2019 until her opponent, freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew, decided to become a Republican after refusing to vote to impeach President Donald Trump.
In another closely watched primary, Republican David Richter won the nomination in the 3rd District that straddles Burlington and Ocean counties. Freshman Andy Kim unseated a Republican two years ago by a narrow margin and The Cook Political Report is one of the political sites that views this race as a toss-up in November. Richter, who had been painted a carpetbagger for having moved into the district to run there, will face Kim in November. His opponent, former Burlington County freeholder Kate Gibbs, conceded around midnight after failing to get enough GOP support in her home county to overcome Richter’s party support in Ocean County.
“I am convinced that tolls were a sleeper issue in Ocean County,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. He noted that Gibbs is deputy director of a labor union that supported recently approved toll hikes on both the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. “Kate Gibbs’ job was to advocate for increasing Parkway tolls, and that doesn’t play well at all in a county where you’ve got to pay them when you go to work or bring your kid to karate … Tolls are an absolute killer, and David Richter was smart to campaign against them.”
Still, the results of all the nominees in this mostly mail-in election will be preliminary for at least another week, as more mail-in ballots cast by Tuesday continue to come in and be tallied. The counting of votes cast in person Tuesday will not begin for seven days.
In many places, that might not matter much. Some polling locations reported fewer than 10 people had voted by noon — in parts of Hunterdon County, for instance. But other municipalities saw steady in-person voting, with close to 1,000 showing up to vote by provisional ballot, the method used in this election for those who went to a polling place instead of mailing in their ballot.
Despite the fact that mail-in ballots had been coming in over the last several weeks and election officials began counting them early Tuesday, a number of counties had not reported any results as late as 10 p.m., making it impossible to judge the results in several races.
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Mail-in ballots received
A number of counties across the state were reporting relatively high numbers of mail-in ballots received to date, with seven more days for ballots to arrive and still be counted. Gloucester County had gotten back about 50,000 and Hudson County had 60,000. Both Cape May and Hunterdon counties were reporting that close to 40% of the ballots they had mailed out had been returned by about noon.
“We have had a steady stream of activity today with voters apply for Vote-by-Mail ballots or replacing spoiled ballots,” said Rita Mae Fulginiti, clerk in Cape May.
It was unclear whether all counties would be able to tabulate all the mail-in ballots received by the end of Tuesday night — each one has to be scanned in, which is more time-consuming than reading machine-tallied results after the polls close.
“We had about 150 people come in starting at 7 a.m., and they’ve just been opening and counting all day,” said Stephanie Salvatore, superintendent of elections in Gloucester County. “It’s a sea of ballots everywhere.”
In-person, provisional ballots cannot be counted until after all the mail-in ballots are in; election officials can continue to receive those through July 14.
Preliminary results did not stop some candidates from declaring victory early.
For instance, state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. declared victory around 8:50 p.m. in the GOP primary in the 7th District. At 11:25 p.m., with just 35% of the vote counted, Kean had 85% of the vote, with each of his two challengers getting about 7%. Kean stands to face freshman Tom Malinowski, unopposed in the Democratic primary, in the district that stretches from the Delaware River into Union County. This will be a battleground in November, with the GOP looking to win back this traditionally red district that Malinowski flipped in 2018.
While Richter, former head of a major construction company who now runs an asset management firm, will have money to fuel his bid to unseat Kim in the 3rd District, it’s unclear whether the Republican Party will coalesce behind him. In conceding, Gibbs did not offer a statement of unity, instead referring to questions of gender representation that had surfaced during the campaign, saying, “It’s the hundred-year anniversary of women’s suffrage and, sadly, Alice Paul’s home has never been represented by a woman in Congress. While the loss hurts, I hope my campaign helps to inspire and encourage other women to challenge the good ol’ boys club, run for office, and make sure their voices are heard.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are eager to regain the 2nd District, which covers all or parts of New Jersey’s eight southernmost counties. In conceding to Kennedy via a video statement, Harrison said that while she was disappointed, the party would be united behind the nominee.
“Tonight is a great moment for the Democratic nominee because tonight after a primary that has been tough for all of us, we stand together,” said Harrison, a professor at Montclair State University.
Ben Dworkin, founding director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship at Rowan University, said Kennedy benefited both from the progressive wing of the party and from the Kennedy name.
“One of the lessons to come out of this, I think, is that the Democratic party has shifted,” he said. “Every incumbent needs to keep their finger on the pulse of this shifting party, or else you’re going to be challenged and you’re going to face a more serious challenge than you expected and in some cases, you will lose.”
Some candidates are nervous
This year, Democratic incumbents from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker down through most of the congressional districts faced one or more challenges from the left. It would have been shocking for Booker to lose to activist Larry Hamm and with close to 35% of the votes in, the Associated Press was declaring Booker the victor, with a seemingly insurmountable 89% of the vote.
Still, some House members were nervous going into Tuesday night — Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a conservative Democrat representing the northernmost 5th District, has been running television ads for more than a week and his progressive opponent, Arati Kreibich, has had YouTube videos that have gotten thousands of views. As of 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Gottheimer had 69% of the vote but just 11% of precincts had reported. Four Republicans were vying to challenge Gottheimer; Frank Pallotta was leading with two-thirds of ballots cast.
So far, the results are showing that loyal partisans continued to vote in greater numbers than those on the far left or the far right.
Republicans have primary challengers, as well, including a five-person race for the Senate nomination.
Election Night was different in other ways, most notably, the lack of election headquarters or victory parties stocked with hors d’oeuvres, alcohol and sign-waving, cheering supporters. One exception was a very small rally Republican Rik Mehta, presumed to have the edge in the race to become the GOP’s senatorial nominee, held in Chester. About 30 rallied around the gazebo in a park on Main Street to back the biotech engineer, who spoke briefly, stressing his conservative views on such issues as abortion and gun rights.
“We’re going to win big in November and it’s going to start tonight,” Mehta declared.
At 11:25 p.m., with a third of the vote counted, Mehta was trailing Hirsh Singh, who has lost House and gubernatorial primaries in 2018 and 2017, respectively, 37% to 39%.
It was easy to forget that the presidential race, usually the biggest election draw, was atop the ticket, because the November contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is already essentially decided. Trump was alone on the Republican ballot. The former vice president did have opposition on the Democratic ballot from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent. Biden was way ahead of Sanders, at 87% with 35% of precincts reporting.
It is possible to state, with some certainty, the winners of races that were uncontested or where challengers did not put up much of a fight. They included:
- In the 1st District that includes Camden, both Rep. Donald Norcross, a Democrat, and Republican Claire Gustafson, were unopposed in their primaries;
- In the 4th District that cuts across the state through Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties, Republican Rep. Chris Smith got almost 95% of the vote to easily beat Alter Richter, with more than half of the vote counted. On the Democratic side, Stephanie Schmid was leading two opponents with 70% of the vote. However, one of those opponents, Christine Conforti, filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging the state’s party-line ballot and it is unclear whether that might help her contest the results — Schmid received Democratic Party backing;
- In the 6th District that covers parts of Middlesex and Monmouth counties, Rep. Frank Pallone was declared the winner over two opponents. Pallone had gotten 85% of the vote with 30% counted. His opponent will be determined by a write-in, as no Republican filed for the primary;
- In the deep blue 8th District centered in Hudson County, Republican Jason Todd Mushnick was unopposed, while Rep. Albio Sires faces two Democratic primary opponents. With a quarter of precincts reporting, the AP declared Sires the winner with three-quarters of the vote. Still, Hector Oseguera has received significant progressive support;
- With less than 2% of the votes counted in the 9th District, encompassing parts of Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., facing two Democratic opponents, had won 83% of the votes. Not enough votes had been counted in the race between Republicans Billy Prempeh and Timothy Walsh to report results;
- In the 10th District that encompasses much of Newark, another Democratic stronghold, the AP called the race for Rep. Donald Payne Jr. With 39% of precincts reporting, Payne had won 90% of the vote, while his two opponents split 10%. Republican Jennifer Zinone ran unopposed;
- In the 11th District, centered in Morris County, both freshman Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill and Republican Rosemary Becchi were unopposed;
- In the 12th District, Republican Mark Razzoli was unopposed. The AP declared Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat, the victor over Lisa McCormick. Watson Coleman had 90% of the votes with 38% reported.