N.J. Democrats have a big money advantage in Assembly races

Posted Oct 16, 2019

Republicans trying to hold onto seats in the state Assembly and reclaim a seat in the state Senate are staring at a big cash disadvantage heading into New Jersey’s legislative elections next month.

GOP candidates have raised just about $3.3 million and spent less than half of that — $1.4 million — according to the latest fundraising figures from the state’s nonpartisan Election Law Enforcement Commission.

At the same time, Democrats hoping to expand their majority in the Assembly and unseat the chamber’s Republican leader have raised $11 million and spent $5.7 million.

Democrats currently hold 54 of the 80 seats in the Assembly, the lower house of the state Legislature. The 26 seats held by Republicans is the GOP’s lowest number in decades. All 80 seats in the state Assembly are on the ballot, as is one state Senate seat.

Fundraising and spending on this year’s legislative races aren’t exactly on track to break any records, which is expected given the few competitive contests. But totals seriously lag the 2017 elections, when the Senate and Assembly were both on the ballot, according to ELEC’s analysis.

It’s still early, cautioned ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle.

“In some elections, the heaviest spending comes during the last week or two of the campaign," Brindle said.

“However, it also could be that most of this year’s races are not viewed as very competitive" and the political parties and independent groups are holding their powder until next year’s presidential and congressional elections, he added.

This year’s election doesn’t feature a barnburner like the 2017 contest between state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and New Jersey Education Association-backed candidate Republican Fran Granier. Nearly $19 million was spent in that race, breaking national records for legislative campaign spending.

Perhaps the hottest race this fall is in north Jersey’s 21st legislative district. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and his running mate, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, both R-Union, are in a battle with Democrats Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman for the district’s two Assembly seats.

The race has attracted the most dollars — $1.3 million as Democrats try to oust Bramnick and Munoz in the swing district.

Democrats also want to pick up Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco’s seat in North Jersey’s District 25, where candidates have raised the sixth-most of any legislative contest so far, at $626,000.

Bucco was chosen Tuesday evening to fill the vacancy in the state Senate left by his father’s death last month. But he will still appear on the ballot for the Assembly.

The race for the sole Senate seat on the ballot, in South Jersey’s District 1, has taken in nearly $983,000 — the fourth-highest fundraising total.

Republicans are aiming to flip this swing district seat back to red with candidate Jim Testa. It’s now occupied by Democrat Bob Andrzejczak, who took over for when Jeff Van Drew was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Battleground districts tend to be those with the tightest voting margins in previous elections,” Brindle said in the report. “Both parties view them as winnable, so they tend to be the most expensive elections.”

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