NJ Decides 2020: Insurgents hope to make inroads

In what may well be remembered as the weirdest primary election of our time. Long lines at the Motor Vehicle Commission. No lines at the polling place. Of course, the polling place this year was wherever you happened to find yourself over the past couple of weeks. For candidates in this crazy campaign, it was anything but business as usual.

“It has been a kind of unpredictable time in our lives, generally. It’s also been an unpredictable election. It’s kept us on our toes and we’ve had a lot of fun,” said District 2 candidate Brigid Callahan Harrison.

Harrison, Amy Kennedy and Will Cunningham are running in the most-watched race in the state: the Democratic Congressional Primary in District 2. It’s a race many are seeing as a proxy fight between the governor, who’s endorsed Kennedy — a former South Jersey teacher and mental health advocate — and the George Norcross and Steve Sweeney alliance which is backing Harrison.

“This has been portrayed as a reformer against the machine candidate Harrison forces. I think that’s a little bit overplayed. Kennedy folks have engaged with the Calloway organization and have made their own deals with political bosses. And Harrison is not nearly the stooge that of George Norcross and other powerful Democrats in south Jersey that she’s made out to be,” said Ben Dworkin.

The winner faces former Democrat turned Trump devotee Jeff Van Drew in the fall in what will likely be one of the most-watched congressional races.

Oseguera’s campaign against seven-time incumbent Albio Sires has also attracted attention as a progressive cause celebre.

“I love canvassing. I love going door to door. I thunk that’s one of the best parts of campaigning is just talking to people, but obviously with COVID that couldn’t happen. But what that made us do was get a lot more innovative and scrappier on the ground with digital, with social media,” Oseguera said.

Sires hasn’t been seriously challenged since he took office in 2006. But there were signs that Sires was feeling the heat, forcing the usually unharried Sires to call on machine reserves.

“Sires has really had to dip into his reserves in order to fend off that challenge, so anything that forces an incumbent to actually dip into their reserves to fend off a challenge is usually an indication of how seriously they took that threat,” Krista Jenkins said.

Those two races, as well as pretty much all the other races in this COVID primary, won’t be officially decided for a week, maybe two, if it’s close. County clerks are holding their collective breath.

“It’s been complicated, weird. There’s a lot of adjectives you could use to describe this election, but we know that the situation is not a good one so we’re making it work the best we can,” said Hudson County Clerk Junior Madonado.

Over 3 million voters were eligible to cast votes for this election. In the fall, that number could almost double. What happens today and in the next two weeks will go a long way toward revealing whether our electoral system is ready for what’s next.