Republicans flipped 7 seats in N.J.’s Democratic-controlled N.J. Legislature

Published: Nov. 23, 2021

Though Democrats will retain control of both the state Senate and Assembly, Republicans have flipped seven seats in the New Jersey Legislature — making it their most successful legislative election in 30 years.

All 120 seats in the Legislature — the body in Trenton that crafts New Jersey’s laws and passes the state budget — were on the ballot earlier this month.

Come Jan. 11, when the winners are sworn in, Democrats will hold 24 of the 40 seats in the Senate and 46 of the 80 seats in the Assembly. But that’s down from their current majorities of 25 and 52.

Republicans gained six seats in the Assembly and one in the Senate, according to final vote counts Monday. County clerks had until this past weekend to submit official results to the state. Each of New Jersey’s 40 election districts have one state senator and two Assembly members.

Here are the highlights in the Assembly, the Legislature’s lower house:

  • Republicans Marilyn Piperno and Kim Eulner ousted incumbent Democratic Assembly members Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling by a razor-thin margin in Monmouth County’s 11th legislative district. Piperno drew 35,336 votes, Eulner 35,177, Downey 34,830, Houghtaling 34,555, and independent Dominique Faison 1,152. This was the final election awaiting a result after counting delays and tight margins led many races too close to call for days after the Nov. 2 election. Democrats are not expected to seek a recount.
  • Republicans Don Guardian, a former Atlantic City mayor, and Claire Swift defeated incumbent Democratic Assemblyman John Armato and Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick in South Jersey’s 2nd district. Fitzpatrick was running to succeed incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, who ran unsuccessfully for the district’s Senate seat.
  • Republicans Bethanne McCarthy-Patrick and Beth Sawyer ousted incumbent Democratic Assemblyman John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro in South Jersey’s 3rd district.

In the Senate — the upper house — Republicans won two seats. Republican Ed Durr ousted state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, in the 3rd district — one of the biggest political upsets in New Jersey history. And Republican Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield ousted incumbent Democratic Sen. Dawn Addiego in the 8th district more than two years after Addiego switched parties.

But Democrats will have a net loss of only one seat because Democratic Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker beat Republican former Congressman Michael Pappas for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman in Central Jersey’s 16th district.

The last time Republicans flipped more legislative seats in New Jersey was 1991, when the party gained 31 seats and took control of both houses, with veto-proof majorities. Democrats had gradually gained power since, with Republican numbers in the Legislature dwindling to their lowest point in decades over the last six years as the state turned bluer, with registered Democrats now outnumbering Republicans by more than 1 million.

But this year’s election saw a surge of Republican turnout, which GOP leaders argue was a pushback against Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s progressive agenda. Murphy was re-elected last week, but his victory against Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli was much closer than expected.

Political observers say Republicans were also bolstered by Democratic President Joe Biden’s dropping poll numbers, Democratic in-fighting in Washington, and opposition to high taxes and coronavirus restrictions. New Jersey’s elections were among the first major races held since Biden was elected last year.

“There’s only so far you can push people, and what voters considered as they went to the polls is that under one-party rule, they’re paying through the nose for property taxes on top of inflated costs for food, energy and household goods,” Alex Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Republican Party, said of the results. “Not to mention voters aren’t happy with the way Murphy belittled so-called ‘kitchen table’ issues and undermined parents.”

Wilkes also noted that Republicans added five women to their ranks in the Legislature.

”After all, who would you trust the most to stand up for your family in Trenton?” she said.

In addition, Guardian becomes the first openly gay Republican elected to the New Jersey Legislature and the state’s first openly gay lawmaker in more than three years.

All of Democrats’ losses happened in either South Jersey or the Jersey Shore. Democratic state Sen. Vin Gopal, who narrowly held on to his seat in Monmouth County’s 11th District, is now the only Democrat representing the Shore region.

But some Democrats say the results show the party’s strength because Murphy became the first Democratic governor to be re-elected in New Jersey in 44 years and Democrats kept control of the Legislature despite the red wave.

Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for the Democratic State Committee, said voters “see the progress being made every day to make our state stronger, fairer and more affordable for working and middle class families.”

“Despite facing strong partisan headwinds out of Washington and frustration caused by the pandemic, Democrats still won clear legislative majorities and will be able to continue delivering the progress that New Jerseyans deserve,” Swibinski added.

Still, the results have prompted some politicos to wonder whether the more moderate Democrats who control the Legislature will tack more to the political center in the new legislative session — especially because all 120 seats are on the ballot again in 2023. The party’s slimmer margins in each house may make it harder to pass heavily debated legislation.

For his part, Murphy has repeatedly credited progressive achievements for helping him and Democrats win.

“I think if we had not put the policies in place over the past four years, we would’ve been washed away as well,” the governor said last week.

Murphy has also said he understands “there’s a lot of hurt out there.”

“You lost your job, you lost a loved one, your small business went down, you’re sick and tired of wearing a mask or mandates, you’re frustrated as heck,” he said during an interview Monday morning on CNN. “I understand all that. We were the first ones up to bat. But it’s our job to make sure that folks know we are there for them.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-11-24 03:27:19 -0800