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Reps. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton) and James Saxton (R-Mount Holly) at Fort Dix in the 1990s. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.)

Happy Birthday, Jim Saxton

By David Wildstein, January 22 2021 2:46 pm

Jim Saxton, who represented New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives for 24 years before his retirement in 2008, is celebrating his 78th birthday today.

He represented New Jersey’s 3rd district, the seat now held by Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown).

Saxton won a State Assembly seat in 1975, ousting an incumbent Democrat in Gov. Brendan Byrne’s first mid-term election.

The 8th district was drawn in 1973 to include parts of Burlington, Mercer, Ocean, and Monmouth counties and mostly survived the 1973 Watergate Democratic wave.  State Sen. Barry Parker (R-Mount Holly) held his Senate seat.  One of the Assembly seats was won by Mercer County Freeholder Clifford Snedeker (R-Lawrence), who edged out Assemblyman Kenneth Wilkie (R-Florence) by 159 votes.  The top vote-getter was Democrat John Sweeney (D-Florence).

Saxton, a Bordentown realtor, defeated Sweeney by 3,018 votes.  Sweeney later served as a Superior Court Judge and as chief counsel to Gov. Jim Florio.  Sweeney was the last Democrat to win in the 8th legislative district.

After easily winning re-election in 1977 and 1979, Saxton moved up to the State Senate in 1981 after Parker gave up his seat to run for governor.

Rep. Edwin Forsythe (R-Moorestown) had announced in March 1984 that he would not seeking re-election – he died a few weeks later of lung cancer at age 68 – and Saxton became a candidate for Congress in a newly-drawn districts that included parts of Burlington, Ocean, and Camden counties.

Saxton faced Ocean County Clerk Dean Haines, while Camden backed Assemblyman John Rocco (R-Cherry Hill).  Saxton had the line in Burlington and Monmouth; Haines was the organization candidate in Ocean and Rocco in Camden.

The three candidates faced off in two different primaries in two different congressional districts on the same day.

The first was in the old district drawn in 1982 that a federal appellate court had already ruled as invalid; the candidates were running for the remaining ten weeks of Forsythe’s term.  The other was in the new district.

Saxton beat Haines in the primary for the full, two-year term by 1,188 votes, 45%-41%, with 14% for Rocco.

In the special, the result was a 1,699-vote win for Saxton, 46%-40% over Haines, with Rocco finishing third with 14%.

Burlington gave Saxton a 10,769-vote margin over Haines, 85%-8%, with Rocco at 7%.  In the special primary, Saxton came out of Burlington with 86% of the vote, 6,778 votes ahead of Rocco and 6,921 in front of Haines.

In Ocean County, Haines won 84% of the vote.  He carried his home county by 11,764 votes over Saxton, with Rocco finishing third with 4%.  For the unexpired term, Haines on 85% of the vote.  He beat Saxton by 9,770 and Rocco by Rocco by 10,606.

Rocco won Camden by 851 votes, 54%-40%, against Saxton.  Haines finished third with 7%.   Camden County delivered a 53%-42% win for Rocco for the unexpired term, who edged out a 501-vote victory over Saxton.  Haines finished third with 5%, trailing Rocco by 2,339.

In the special, Saxton won the Monmouth portion of the district with 86% of the vote, scoring a 2,657-vote win over Rocco.  Haines came in 53 votes behind Rocco. Monmouth was not in the new district.

In the general election, Saxton beat former Mount Holly Mayor James B. Smith by a 61%-38% margin.  President Ronald Reagan won the district by a 65%-35% margin over Walter Mondale.  He also on the unexpired term with 62%.

He was re-elected 11 times without much difficulty.  One of his closest races came in 1990 when 31-year-old John Adler, a former Cherry Hill Councilman, held Saxton to 58% of the vote in a Republican year.

Adler ousted Republican State Sen. Lee Laskin (R-Cherry Hill) in 1991, overcoming a massive GOP wave that followed Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase.

Following Saxton’s retirement in 2008 – he was battling prostate cancer – Adler flipped the open congressional seat that gave Democrats their first win since 1882.

The seat subsequently was held by Republicans Jon Runyan (R-Moorestown) and Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) before Kim won it in 2018.

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