Good morning, New Jersey.
It’s 6 AM and the limited in-person voting has now begun.
New Jerseyans have been voting in person for weeks in a primary election being run almost entirely through vote-by-mail ballots.
Gov. Phil Murphy postponed the June 2 primary until today as a way of slowing the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Murphy also extended the window for the return of mail-in ballots from two days to one week, allowing the U.S. Postal Service more time to deliver votes postmarked before 8 PM tonight.
Nobody really knows what turnout will be like because of the it’s unclear how many ballots are already en route, or how many will be completed by tomorrow night.
As of this morning, New Jerseyans had returned 953,964 vote-by-mail ballots out of 3,764,034 mailed — a 25% turnout. That’s much less than the 1,388,669 that voted in the 2016 presidential primary.
The big story of the 2020 primary is the process itself. Computer glitches and post office deliver problems might mean that New Jersey’s election infrastructure wasn’t quite ready for a statewide vote-by-mail election, and that it can’t keep pace with the decision-making process.
New Jersey election officials say that it could take days for unofficial results for some races in Tuesday’s primary election, and any cliffhangers will take at least a week – maybe more – to declare a winner.
The New Jersey Globe will not call close races on election night in counties where there a significant number of uncounted votes remain.
Here’s are the races we’re watching
No big surprise here: we’re paying attention to all of them.
The best races to watch are in the 2nd and 3rd districts, where both parties have hotly contested primaries to pick challengers for freshmen Reps. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) and Andy Kim (D-Moorestown).
Van Drew was elected as a Democrat in 2018, flipping a House seat Republicans had held for 24 years. Van Drew lasted less than a year as a Democrat and switched parties after refusing to support Donald Trump’s impeachment.
Five Democrats want to take on Van Drew: former congressional aide Will Cunningham; West Cape May Commissioner John Francis III; Brigid Callahan Harrison, a political science professor well-known to political insiders statewide; Amy Kennedy, a member of one of American’s most storied political families; and Bob Turkavage, a retired FBI agent.
This is a primary battle between the dominant South Jersey Democratic machine, which could be dealt a rare loss, and a test of the Kennedy name. The Kennedy’s have not won a congressional race outside of New England since 1964.
Harrison has the organization line in six of the eight counties in the district that make up 54% of the Democratic primary voters. Kennedy has the party endorsement in Atlantic County, where 41% of the primary electorate lives.
Gov. Phil Murphy has endorsed Kennedy, but Harrison has the support of U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.
With Trump’s help, Van Drew was able to largely clear the field. He faces one primary opponent, Robert Patterson, a former Trump administration official.
The 3rd district contest pits Burlington vs. Ocean in a fratricidal bout for a congressional seat Republican have a realistic chance to take back. Burlington, usually a little less than half the vote in a GOP primary, is backing former freeholder director Kate Gibbs. Ocean, typically slightly more than half the vote, went with David Richter, the former CEO of one of the nation’s largest construction companies.
Kim might benefit from the bitter Republican contest. He has banked more than $3.2 million and both GOP candidates have struggled to spend money and appear to be throwing whatever they do have in an effort to win the nomination.
Eight of New Jersey’s 12 incumbents face primary challenges, including Van Drew.
The most-watched one is in the 5th district, where Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) faces Glen Rock Councilwoman Arati Kreibich in the Democratic primary. An internal Gottheimer poll two weeks ago had him up by more than 40 points.
Gottheimer, the Human Fundraising Machine, has the backing of the party leadership and Murphy; Kreibich was endorsed by Bernie Sanders.
Four Republicans are seeking the chance to take on Gottheimer in the general election; the race is between former Cresskill Councilman John McCann and investment banker Frank Pallotta.
Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York) also face a challenge from the left. Sires put his foot on the gas over the last two weeks, and the Hudson County Democratic organization is like a fish out of water when it comes to vote-by-mail elections. Still, it’s not clear that Hector Oseguera can win off-the-line in Hudson, Newark’s North Ward and Elizabeth with less than $75,000, despite being loud inside the bubble.
Even less likely are primary challenges to Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-Paterson) – one of his two progressive opponents has put about $200,000 into the race – House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Long Branch), or Donald Payne (D-Newark).
Two more incumbents, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton) and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) face nuisance candidates. Watson Coleman, who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the last week, is opposed by shadowy perennial candidate Lisa McCormick.
Democrats have a three-way race in the 4th district to select Smith’s opponent: former U.S. Department of State official Stephanie Schmid has organization lines in Monmouth and Ocean counties; former United Nations staffer Christine Conforti won the Mercer County Democratic convention; and journalist/author David Applefield has won plaudits for running a different kind of grassroots campaign and putting his own money behind it.
If Smith wins the general election, it would be his 21st consecutive victory and make him the longest-serving congressman in New Jersey history.
In the 7th district, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) is poised to crush two GOP primary opponents in his bid to take on freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes).
Cory Booker faces a primary challenge from Lawrence Hamm, a former Newark school board member and chairman of Bernie Sanders’ New Jersey campaign. While Sanders have weighed in on two House races, he has not taken sides in a primary involving his Senate colleague and onetime presidential rival.
Republicans have five candidates looking to take on Booker, but the race is between the only candidates who have scored any organizational backing: frontrunner Rik Mehta and Hirsh Singh.
This likely sets up a little history as the first New Jersey statewide election where neither of the candidates are white.
For extreme political junkies, here are two more races worth watching: a write-in campaign between Republicans Christian Onuoha and Sammy Gindi for the GOP nomination to run against Pallone; and a quiet but omnipresent contest for delegates to the Democratic National Convention that will be apportioned based on the percentage Sanders wins statewide and in 20 district delegate races.
Onuoha beat Gindi at Republican conventions in Monmouth and Middlesex, but neither candidate got 200 valid signatures to secure a place on the primary ballot. To win the nomination as a write-in, a candidate must get at least 200 votes. It’s not immediately clear if either of them has the political skills to get that done.
Sanders dropped out of the race three months ago and has endorsed Joe Biden, but his name remains on the ballot in the New Jersey primary and his slate is continuing to seek support for delegate votes to a convention that isn’t really happening anyway.
Calculating how many delegates Sanders wins might be the last thing that happens in the 2020 primary.
On the local level, watch the Democratic primaries for Atlantic City mayor and Cumberland County freeholder.
Incumbent Marty Small, who took over last year after Frank Gilliam admitted to stealing money from a youth basketball league, is the favorite against Pamela Thomas-Fields. Small has the backing of Murphy, Menendez and Booker; Thomas-Fields is supported by former Atlantic City Council President Craig Callaway, the titular head of the local Democratic Party.
In Cumberland, incumbent Jack Surrency is running off-the-line after Democratic party leaders decided not to support his re-election.
Incumbents Carol Musso and George Castellini and their running mate, Millville commissioner Bruce Cooper, are in Column A with Biden, Booker and Harrison. Surrency has formed a ticket with Donna Pearson, who served two terms on the Board of Freeholders in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The third candidate is Tracey Huggins, a registered nurse who ran for the Vineland school board seat three years ago.
All nine candidates on the organization line for Hudson County Freeholder face primary challenges.