Gov. Phil Murphy raised about $400,000 tonight at a fundraiser for the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, a huge boost to a party seeking to expand their majority in the lower house.
The high-dollar event – ticket prices ranged from $5,000 to $25,000 – allowed the Democratic governor to enhance his relationship with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. But perhaps more importantly, raising money for Assembly Democrats was a public demonstration of Murphy’s alliance with the Middlesex County Democratic organization and Kevin McCabe, the county chairman.
The money raised by Murphy will help Democrats expand their investment into targeted Assembly races in the final cycle of what has become a 12-year legislative map. Democrats think they can grow their 52-28 majority in the Assembly.
While Murphy struggled to get along with legislative leaders early in his term, he now gets along well with Coughlin. His relationship with Senate President Steve Sweeney has improved over the last year and the two are no longer on completely different islands.
Perhaps most importantly for Murphy is the relationship with Middlesex.
As he seeks to become the first Democratic governor in 44 years to win re-election, Murphy, Coughlin and McCabe appear to understand that Republican Jack Ciattarelli has virtually no path to a plurality without being able to flip suburban, middle-class voters in Middlesex County.
To oust Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009, Republican Chris Christie won Middlesex by 4,774 votes, 47%-45%. Four years later, against a local lawmaker, State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), Christie carried Middlesex by 31,394 votes, 58%-40%.
In 2018, Murphy won Middlesex by 29,907 votes, 57%-40%.
Last month, Murphy provided Middlesex Democrats with a primary endorsement of the organization candidate for mayor of Edison, Sam Joshi. Joshi faces Mahesh Bhagia, the local Democratic municipal chairman, in the June 8 Democratic primary. McCabe and Coughlin are backing Joshi.
The best chance for Democrats to pick up seats in the lower house is in the 8th district, where two Republican incumbents are not seeking re-election.
Evesham Democratic Municipal Chairman Marc Natale and Lenape Regional High School Board of Education member Allison Eckel are seeking to flip two seats in a legislative district Democrats haven’t won since 1973. They face Republicans Michael Torrissi, Jr., a Hammonton councilman, and Lumberton Township Administrator Brandon Umba.
Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (R-Westampton) is giving up her seat after two years to take on State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham). Addiego is running as a Democrat for the first time after switching parties in 2019. Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport) is not seeking re-election.
Democrats are defending two seats in the 2nd district, where Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) is seeking an open Senate seat. Assemblyman John Armato (D-Buena) is running with Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick.
The 2nd is where Republicans believe they can make some gains. They’re running former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and former deputy state attorney general Claire Swift for Assembly.