Republicans have won two local elections in New Jersey this year in towns that Joe Biden carried in 2020, something that could be a harbinger of where the state is headed during the 2022 mid-term elections.
The GOP flipped a seat on the all-Democratic Maywood Borough Council on February 15 in a do-over of a November 2021 election that ended in tie and won a rerun of a November 2020 council race in South Toms River on Tuesday that had also ended in a tie.
“It’s an indication that New Jersey Republicans seem to have the enthusiasm edge. They are fired up, and they didn’t really skip a beat once the general election was over,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “They’ve kept registering new voters, which is why they’ve had the edge on those, too.”
The early elections come as Biden’s national job approvals remain under water – a Quinnipiac University poll released today has the president at 42%-53% — and a Rutgers-Eagleton poll from last week had Gov. Phil Murphy’s favorables narrowly upside-down for the first time since he took office in 2018: 33%-38%.
Biden and Murphy carried Maywood, where there are almost twice as many Democrats as Republican, but Danyel Cicarelli, a school board member, ousted Democratic Councilwoman Katherine Benin by 41 votes last month.
In South Toms River, which went for Biden by 80 votes in 2020 and Republican Jack Ciattarelli beat Murphy there by 120 votes last year. Republican Sandy Ross reclaimed his seat yesterday by a wide margin.
Next up is Old Bridge, where a repeat election is set for March 22 for the Ward 4 council seat. Democrat Jill DeCaro won it by 11 votes last November against incumbent Mark Razzoli, but a judge invalidated the election after determining that 27 voters received ballots for the incorrect ward.
A former Democrat, Razzoli carried the Old Bridge portion of New Jersey’s 12th district in his 2020 congressional run against Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) by 567 votes, 50.5% to 47.9%, but Ward 4 totals are unclear since the election was mostly through VBM ballots that were calculated township-wide.
Biden also won Old Bridge. It’s not clear how he did in Ward 4, since the Middlesex County Clerk didn’t isolate ballots in a mostly vote-by-mail election by ward. Ciattarelli took the 4th ward, not including some residents of Cymbeline Drive, with 66% and a 570-vote margin.
“Democrats need to step it up. They’ve been in the majority for two decades, and they need to find the spring in their step,” Rasmussen said. “I think COVID took a toll on their canvassing and GOTV muscle memory. I’m thinking more it’s more tactical than environment, but one can certainly lead to the other if you’re not careful.”