None of New Jersey's congressional races are high on the national radar, but by the end of tonight, the state will have at least three new representatives. Voters will also decide whether to end bail as a constitutional right and if a stable source of funding should be guaranteed for open-space preservation.
Polls open at 6 a.m. and remain open until 8 p.m. Information about polling locations is. NJ Spotlight will provide live election results beginning at 8 p.m., as returns come in.
The big question nationally in these elections is whether Republicans can take control of the U.S. Senate, but there is little doubt that New Jersey's Senate seat will remain blue. And despite some speculation and polling data over the past several months showing two Republican congressional seats in danger of flipping Democratic, the most recent polls indicate that the state's dozen House members are likely to remain split, though with new faces replacing the three representatives who are retiring or have already left Washington. The result of one of those races is almost certain to give New Jersey its first congresswoman in more than a decade, likely its first female African American representative.
In New Jersey, the biggest question is whether the second of two constitutional amendments on the ballot will pass.
That second question seeks to dedicate at least $71 million a year of corporate business tax revenues to preserve open space. In the past, the state has protected farms and forests with bond issues that have typically received broad voter support. That money has run out. Supporters of the business-tax dedication say it will provide a more stable source for open space funding. But unlike in past years, there is a split within the environmental community since some say the measure would divert funds from other environmental protection programs. Gov. Chris Christie and conservative groups oppose the spending for different reasons. Supporters say the state can find money elsewhere to keep environmental protection funding at current levels but without replenishing the open-space fund the state will lose valuable land to development.
The first question on the ballot is one that even opponents concede is likely to pass. It seeks to remove from the constitution the right to all those accused of crimes to bail. Christie and a broad coalition of groups that include the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union support the question as needed to implement a law that guarantees New Jerseyans the right to a speedy trial and will allow many to be released without having to post bail. The state's criminal defense lawyers and bail-bond industry oppose the measure, saying it will lead to some wrongly being held in jail without bail and the state is not likely to pay the high costs needed to monitor all those who are released while awaiting trial.
Atop the ballot is the U.S. Senate race. The reelection of freshman U.S. Sen. Cory Booker to the seat he won in last October's special election seems near certain following a ho-hum campaign. Booker holds a 14-point lead over his GOP opponent Jeff Bell in the most recent poll, released yesterday. The Monmouth University Poll gave the former mayor of Newark a 54 percent to 40 percent margin among likely voters with just 5 percent undecided.
“The New Jersey Senate race has been pretty much status quo throughout the fall campaign," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "One big question is whether Booker can outperform his 11-point win in last year’s special election. There is some chatter that he underperformed in that race. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment given the record low 24 percent turnout, but it is a perception that the Booker camp will probably want to put to rest with a bigger win this time.”
Booker's warchest was substantially larger than Bell's -- his $18 million raised for this election cycle makes him the fourth-largest recipient in the nation, although some of that money was for last year's crowded Democratic primary and the special general election. Bell raised about $625,000, though he also benefitted from close to $100,000 in support from the National Organization for Marriage and the American Principles Fund, the superPAC of conservative New Jersey hedge fund manager Sean Fieler. American Principles also spent $257,000 on ads opposing Booker.
Bell did little advertising or direct mail to boost his candidacy and had the benefit of only one free televised debate against Booker, since the incumbent refused to agree to any more meetings. And history is also against him -- New Jerseyans have not voted to elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate since sending Clifford Case to Washington in 1972. Bell could be blamed for ending the N.J. GOP's days in the Senate, having beaten Case in the Republican primary in 1978 and then losing to Democrat Bill Bradley that November.
Five independents are also seeking the Senate seat: Libertarian Joseph Baratelli, Democratic-Republican Eugene Martin Lavergne, and independents Jeff Boss, Antonio Sabas, and Hank Schroeder.
The bigger news is the near-certain election of a woman to represent Central Jersey's 12th Congressional District, replacing retiring Democratic Rep. Rush Holt.
Here, Democratic state Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman would appear to have the edge over Republican Dr. Alieta Eck, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP Senate nomination last year. In this district, which includes parts of Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1. There are five independents on the ballot, as well: Hopewell Township Deputy Mayor Allen Cannon, New Jersey Green Party cofounder Steven Welzer, marijuana activist Don DeZarn, former congressional candidate Ken Cody and business executive Jack Freudenheim.
Watson Coleman is both the best known, having represented part of the district in Trenton since 1998, and best financed, having raised nearly $1.3 million to Eck's $210,000 -- with no fundraising by the independents, according to the most recent reports from the Sunlight Foundation. She also believes she better represents the views of a majority of those in the district, favoring traditional Democratic principles that include gun control, a higher minimum wage, and preserving a woman's right to choose. Eck, who has received some Tea Party support, is pro-life and made opposition to the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare a major plank in her platform.
A win by either woman would have New Jersey send its first female to Washington since Republican Marge Roukema, of Bergen County, left in 2003. A win by Watson would make her the state's first black woman in Congress and the third African-American currently in the state's delegation.
Two other New Jersey races have received some prominence. At various times over the past few months, two races -- one an open seat in the 3rd District in South Jersey and the other Republican Rep. Scott Garrett's 5th District slot in North Jersey -- were considered in play. More recent poll data casts doubt on whether Democrats will be able to win either of those.
That Democratic novice Roy Cho, a lawyer from Bergen County, was within 5 percentage points of Garrett, a man who has spent the last dozen years in Washington in a district that has skewed red for decades surprised pundits and Garrett, of Sussex County, himself. Already with more cash in the bank than all but six other House candidates through mid-October, Garrett raised an additional $100,000 over the last two weeks and quickly put ads on television portraying Cho as a carpetbagger with a suspicious record of voting in elections. He also did something he had not in recent years -- attending editorial boards and granting election interviews with reporters.
"The incumbent is now much more engaged in the race,” said Murray in announcing last Thursday that more recent polling had gave Garrett a more comfortable 11-point lead over Cho. "The fundamentals of this district, are too favorable to Republicans for him to overcome a full Garrett offensive without outside help from national Democrats. That help never materialized, but it may not have been enough this year once Garrett swung into campaign mode.”
Cho raised a respectable $1.2 million for the race, including $125,000 over the past two weeks, and used it to try to paint Garrett as out-of-touch with the state, particularly in his opposition to superstorm Sandy relief funding. One independent, Mark Quick, is also on the ballot.
Republican Rep. Jon Runyan's announced retirement from his district, representing parts of Burlington and Ocean counties, prompted national pundits to rank his district as within reach of Democrats. But with election day nearing, two polls disagreed on the size of the lead held by GOP nominee Tom MacArthur, the former mayor of Randolph who moved to try to win the congressional seat. One poll put him ahead of Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard by 5 points, while another had him up by 11.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, but unaffiliated voters dominate and they have tended to vote red in recent years. Hands down the most expensive race in the state, the candidates and PACs supporting or opposing them have spent some $10.5 million. MacArthur, a former insurance executive, is winning the money war, having spent $5 million of his own funds on his campaign, raised some money and getting some outside help from conservative PACs like Karl Rove's American Crossroads backing him and bashing Belgard. She has received substantial support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other progressive groups -- in the form of ads opposing MacArthur.
Both candidates have slung mud at each other, with Belgard portraying MacArthur as a carpetbagger who supported tax hikes while a mayor and MacArthur criticizing Belgard for voting to raise taxes and taking a freeholder's salary after saying she wouldn't. A third candidate, Frederick John Lavergne, is running as a Democratic-Republican.
The third open House seat is not expected to be a close race, with state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) heavily favored to succeed longtime Democrat Rep. Rob Andrews, who retired last February, in the 1st District, which includes parts of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester counties. Norcross faces Republican Garry Cobb, Democratic-Republican Donald Letton, and independents Mike Berman, Margaret Chapman, Robert Shapiro, and Scot John Tomaszewski.
Norcross, a labor leader and brother of South Jersey Democratic power George Norcross, raised some $2 million, about 20 times more than Cobb, a former pro football player turned sports radio broadcaster. The candidates' views are similar to those held by their parties. And in this district, Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1.
No surprises are expected in any of the state's other districts, where incumbents are better funded than challengers and the district voter demographics favor the party in power:
In the sprawling 2nd, which includes parts of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Ocean counties and all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem, moderate Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo is facing Democrat Bill Hughes, the son of the former congressman, Democratic-Republican Alexander Spano, Constantino Rozzo of the American Labor Party, and independents Bayode Olabisi and Gary Stein.
In the 4th, which covers parts of Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties, Republican Rep. Chris Smith faces Democrat Ruben Scolavino and Democratic-Republican Scott Neuman.
In the 6th, which includes portions of Middlesex and Monmouth, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone is being challenged by Republican Anthony Wilkinson and Libertarian Dorit Goikhman.
In the 7th, which encompasses Hunterdon County and parts of Essex, Morris, Somerset, Union, and Warren, Republican Rep. Leonard Lance faces Democrat Janice Kovach, the mayor of Clinton, and Libertarian James Gawron.
In the 8th, covering portions of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, incumbent Democrat Albio Sires takes on Republican Jude Anthony Tiscornia and independents Pablo Olivera, Herbert Shaw, and Robert Thorne.
In the 9th, which includes parts of Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties, Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. is opposed by Republican Deirdre Paul and Nestor Montilla, an independent.
In the 10th, covering portions of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, freshman Democrat Donald M. Payne Jr. faces Yolanda Dentley, a Republican, and independents Dark Angel and Gwendolyn Franklin.
In the 11th, encompassing parts of Essex, Morris, Passaic, and Somerset, Democrat Mark Dunec is challenging Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen.