What’s behind a state senator’s party switch?

Dawn Marie Addiego blindsided her GOP colleagues when the formerly-Republican state senator from South Jersey announced in an email blast that she’s crossing the aisle and joining the Democratic majority. In her statement, she said, “As gridlock in Washington dominates the news, it has become increasingly clear that in order to effect change you have to be part of the discussion and not on the outside looking in. The people of the 8th District did not elect me to be content in the role of loyal opposition.”

Her new party boss welcomed her as a friend.

“She’s a very, very moderate Republican and someone that I know cares about the people greatly, and I think she fits within our party very well,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said.

Addiego’s former leader, Sen. Tom Kean Jr. graciously noted, “We’re disappointed in Senator Addiego’s decision to leave the Senate Republican caucus. To tie her decision to Congressional action is misguided.”

But Addiego’s Facebook page lit up as her Burlington County constituents reacted to the sudden party switch, posting things like, “If I wanted to vote for a Dem, I would have. You are taking my vote away,” and, “I personally feel deeply betrayed beyond words.”

“You get elected to represent the people that vote for you. And the majority of voters down there elected her, believing her to be one person, and now I think she’s indicated she may feel that she’s someone else,” said New Jersey State Republican Committee Chair Doug Steinhardt. “This is Dawn Addiego doing what she thinks she has to do to protect her personal interests.”

“My guess would be, if she thought she could’ve won as a Republican, she would’ve stayed as a Republican,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, “It’s probably more about staying in the Legislature.”

Republicans called it self-preservation, claiming the former county freeholder who’s served in the Senate since 2010 saw Jersey trending blue and “… decided to jump ship at the first sign of trouble,” Burlington County’s GOP Chair Sean Earlen said, adding, “We can only imagine what Phil Murphy and the Trenton Democrats offered her to make this switch.”

The 8th District will be a war zone in upcoming Assembly races, according to Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray.

“I think this is the Democrats top target for picking up, and that will leave her all alone as a Republican if they can do that. I think she sees the writing on the wall there, and thinks that she has two years to ingratiate herself with the Democrats. Why not do that if it looks like she might be ending up running with Democratic incumbents in the Assembly,” Murray said.

Addiego worked on Sweeney’s fiscal policy panel last summer and praised the Senate president. She joined him to vote for the 23-cent gas tax hike, but in committee abstained on the $15 minimum wage. Her switch now gives Democrats a 26-14 majority in the Senate with a battle royal over the budget looming.

“She’s welcome to go join George Norcross, Steve Sweeney and the rest of the South Jersey Democrats. But they have their agenda, ours is trying to get New Jersey on the right track,” Steinhardt said.

While Addiego’s switch ultimately adds a vote to the Senate’s Democratic majority, what that will mean in a pitched legislative battle could ultimately depend on the bill.