It was hardly a victory, by any means. New Jersey’s Democrats didn’t pick up the two Republican seats that were supposed to be in play. Nationally, the party lost control of the senate, as well as some seats in the House of Representatives.
Still, the state’s Democrats found something to crow about.
But U.S. Senator Cory Booker won handily, and James Tedesco upset the Republican incumbent Kathy Donovan to become Bergen County Executive. That may not seem like much statewide, but Bergen is the New Jersey’s largest county and considered a swing county that can easily sway elections.
In fact, Tedesco’s victory left some top Democrats last night saying it portended well for their party moving into the statewide races, namely the race for governor in 2017 to replace Gov. Chris Christie.
It was not just Tedesco’s rise, but also the fall of Donovan and the votes she could generate for Republicans.
“This all but guarantees it will be a Democrat in 2017,” declared Brendan Gill, campaign manager for Booker and himself a victorious freeholder candidate in Essex County. “It will be extremely difficult for any Republican to win Bergen County without having [Donovan] there.”
In South Jersey, there was a similar sentiment about one Democrat in particular, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, one of a short list of expected Democratic contenders for the governor’s office.
"The only thing better than an electrician in Congress is an Ironworker as the next governor of New Jersey," said state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), who was elected to Congress.
The races yesterday also cemented the Democrats standing among minorities, strategists said, with five of the eight Democratic seats in Congress held by black or Hispanic individuals, including both Senate seats.
Sweeney is hardly alone with his eye on the seat now held by Christie, and one that could be particularly uncertain as Christie himself eyes a run for the White House, with a decision expected to come in the next year.
There was some show of those interested last night. While Sweeney kept a low profile, former U.S. ambassador Phil Murphy was working the crowd in downtown Newark at Booker’s celebration, before heading off to the event for Roy Cho, the unsuccessful Democratic challenger for U.S. Rep Scott Garrett’s seat.
Even Cho’s loss to Garrett was not viewed as a total defeat, as Democratic strategists pointed out that the underfunded Cho’s ability to pull out a large Asian vote in Bergen County undoubtedly helped Tedesco.
Still, others were trying not to read too much into one night for the Democrats, even as encouraging as some of the results were.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said the results in his county and elsewhere in North Jersey were a good step, and he too predicted the Democrats were in a very good place heading toward 2017.
But he said there is a long three years ahead. “It’s still early, very early,” he said.