NJ’s 2021 primary election features Republican race for governor

Legislative contests also on the ballot, including a Democratic fight in north Jersey
Credit: (NJ Spotlight News; hirshsingh.com)
Republican candidates for governor Jack Ciattarelli, left, and Hirsh Singh

It’s Election Day in New Jersey, with voters choosing Democratic and Republican nominees for governor, state Senate and Assembly and county and local offices.

Polls statewide are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. People can also vote by mail if they get their ballot postmarked today or by dropping it into any of the secure drop boxes up within their county until the polls close.

NJ Spotlight News will provide results for contested races updated live throughout the night, as well as an 11 p.m. live newscast breaking down the winners and losers.

Despite the presence of the governor’s race on the ballot, turnout is expected to be relatively low. Four years ago, the last governor’s primary, about 786,000 people — slightly less than a quarter of all registered Democrats and Republicans — turned out.

New Jersey has a closed primary, so Democrats and Republicans vote for their respective candidates. Unaffiliated voters can cast ballots by declaring a party at the polls.

At the top of the ticket, Gov. Phil Murphy is unopposed in his quest to become the first Democrat in more than 40 years to win a second term as governor.

Four Republicans are vying for the right to challenge Murphy in November: Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli of Somerset County is considered the frontrunner and has raised the most money. He and Brian Levine, a former Somerset County freeholder who tried to run for governor once before, are the more moderate Republicans. Hirsh Singh, making his fourth run at a GOP nomination in the past five years, and Phil Rizzo, a pastor and real estate developer, are both running as the most pro-Donald Trump candidate. But Ciattarelli is trying to appeal to Trump supporters, as well, stating in his latest mailer that his “conservative record” includes “Supporting President Trump’s re-election and key policies.”

Down ballot, the entire Legislature is up for re-election this year. Most of the partisan primary races are uncontested, but there are contests for 19 Senate and Assembly slots.

The most prominent of these are the battles among Democrats for one Senate and two Assembly nods in the 37th District in and around Hackensack in Bergen County.

The Senate primary pits the two sitting Assembly members with near virtual voting records against each other. Assemblyman Gordon Johnson is backed by the Bergen County Democratic Committee and is known for a number of law enforcement-related laws, including the abolishing of the death penalty. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, who sponsored the state’s anti-bullying bill among 135 laws she has written since 2016, is running as the more progressive candidate. Each is running with a full slate of Assembly candidates. The latest report from the state Election Law Enforcement Commission shows independent committees spending more than $722,000 in the race, nearly all of it against Huttle and coming from a group with ties to South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross.

READ: Veteran Democrats now opponents in NJ’s high-profile legislative primary

WATCH: 37th District contest: Former Democratic running mates face off in online forum

Biggest piles of dark money

The largest amount dark money spending through May 25 has been more than $900,000 in the 26th District that covers parts of Morris, Essex and Passaic counties. There, the two incumbent Republican Assembly members, Jay Webber and BettyLou DeCroce, are running against each other. Webber is running with Christian Barranco with the backing of the Morris County GOP. DeCroce got the support of the Essex and Passaic Republicans. The Passaic GOP also endorsed Barranco. A fourth candidate, Thomas Mastrangelo, is also running.

There is one other district, the 13th in Monmouth County, where an incumbent Republican assembly member did not get the party’s endorsement and is running off the line. Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso is running off the line, while Assemblyman Gerard Scharfenberger is running with Vicky Flynn, both endorsed by the Monmouth GOP.

Nominations for county commissioner, clerk and sheriff are also on the ballot, as well as Democratic and Republican slots for municipal governing bodies.

The primary winners and candidates who file to run as independents will face one another in the November general election.

This year’s election will be the first one statewide to be conducted primarily in person in 18 months, as last year’s elections were conducted mostly using mail-in ballots. As of last Wednesday, more than 154,000 people had submitted mail-in ballots, more than any previous primary prior to 2020.

READ: NJ Primary Election: These races are making this year’s election unusually competitive

WATCH: Lawsuit against ‘the line’ gains more allies