Good morning, New Jersey.
It’s 6 AM and the polls are now open, and elections have returned to in-person voting after a one-year hiatus for a mostly vote-by-mail election necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. The polls are open until 8 PM.
Gov. Phil Murphy is unopposed in the Democratic primary as he seeks to become the first Democratic governor since 1977 to win re-election to a second term. With approval ratings of 57%, Murphy is the first Democratic governor of New Jersey to begin a bid for re-election with right-side-up job approvals since Richard J. Hughes in 1965.
Republicans will nominate a candidate to take on Murphy, with former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli going into Election Day as the clear front runner.
Ciattarelli faces three opponents: Hirsh Singh and Phil Rizzo, who have campaigned as fervent supporters of former President Donald Trump, and Brian D. Levine, a former Franklin Township mayor and Somerset County freeholder.
Singh, a Peter Pan-like character, is making his fifth bid for public office since 2017 Rizzo, a former real estate developer and pastor of a Hudson County church, is a first-time candidate.
The only head-to-head GOP primary poll was from two weeks ago and it showed Ciattarelli with a six-point lead over Singh, 29%-23%, with 38% of likely Republican primary voters still undecided. Rizzo was at 8% and Singh at 2%.
All 120 seats in the New Jersey Legislature are up this year, with contested primaries in 12 of the 40 districts.
Here are the legislative races to watch, in the order we’re watching them
* District 2: If there are any upsets in the making, it will be in the historically competitive Atlantic County district, where conservative icon Seth Grossman is challenging the Republican organization candidate, former Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Township).
A former Atlantic County Freeholder and Atlantic City Councilman, Grossman has won off the line before. He won a four-way GOP congressional primary in 2018 with 52.5% in the municipalities that are part of the 2nd legislative district. Polistina has been out of office for twelve years.
Democrats think they can flip a Senate seat they lost four years ago. Republican Chris Brown (R-Ventnor) is retiring and four-term Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) in unopposed in the Democratic primary.
* District 39: Incumbents Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan) and DeAnne DeFuccio (R-Upper Saddle River) face Saddle River Councilman John Azzariti and former Saddle River GOP Municipal Chairman John Kurpis. Auth and DeFuccio are on the organization line in Bergen, where about 85% of the GOP primary voters live, but Azzariti and Kurpis have the line in Passaic. Complicating the race is the endorsement of Azzariti and Kurpis by newly-elected State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale).
Auth, who came within 8 votes of beating Schepisi in a special election for State Senate in March, has the backing of a local political organization headed by his mentor, the late State Sen. Gerald Cardinale. DeFuccio won Schepisi’s old Assembly seat in April, defeating Azzariti by 7 votes.
* District 26: If an off-the-line incumbent wins anywhere, it will be in the heavily Republican Morris-Essex-Passaic district where five-term Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) is seeking re-election after losing the Morris County GOP convention by 9 votes. The Morris GOP in launching their line for the first time this year, so there’s no history on whether the organization endorsement sways primary voters or not.
Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains), a seven-term incumbent, is running on the Morris line with the little-known IBEW Local 102 member who defeated DeCroce in Morris, Christian Barranco. DeCroce is alone on the line in Essex and Passaic, but Morris makes up 78% of the Republican primary vote. Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo is also mounting an Assembly bid. Webber will be tough to beat and DeCroce has a brand name that has been winning Morris GOP primaries since 1983.
* District 37: Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg is retiring after nearly 16 years in the upper house, setting off a fierce contest between the two State Assembly members from the 37th: Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood). Johnson has the Bergen Democratic organization line and the backing of Weinberg, Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney. Vainieri Huttle skipped the Bergen Democratic convention, which Johnson had locked, and gave up her Assembly seat to take on Johnson in the primary. She’s banking on a strong progressive record.
The Senate primary opened up two Assembly seats. Tenafly Democratic Municipal Chair Shaima Haider and former Englewood Cliffs Councilwoman Ellen Park are running with Johnson on the organization line. Teaneck Councilwoman Gervonn Romney Rice and Tenafly Council President Lauren Kohn Dayton are running for the Assembly on Vainieri Huttle’s slate.
* District 10: It’s unlikely that Assemblymen Greg McGuckin (R-Toms River) and John Catalano (R-Brick) will lose the primary, so the thing to watch in the safe Republican district is how many votes former Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore can deliver for his candidates: former Toms River Republican Club President Geri Ambrosio and Brian Quinn, a 34-year-old engineer and political newcomer from Toms River.
* District 13: Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-Holmdel) is mounting an off the line re-election bid after Republicans declined to support her for a third term. She faces the Monmouth GOP organization candidate, Holmdel Board of Education President Vicky Flynn. The other incumbent, freshman Gerald Scharfenberger (R-Middletown), is widely viewed as a lock for renomination.
* District 20: State Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) is being challenged by Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle) in what has become a bitter Democratic primary fight. Cryan has the backing of just about everyone – among them: Murphy, State Sen./Union County Democratic Chairman Nicholas Scuatri, Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage and a myriad of labor unions – and Holley has struggled to raise money or show grass roots strength, even from those allied with his anti-vaccination positions.
Assembly Democratic Conference Leader Annette Quijano (D-Elizabeth) is running on the Cryan ticket with Rev. Reginald Atkins, the Roselle Democratic Municipal Chairman and a former mayor. Holley’s running mates are newcomers Christian Veliz and Diane Murray-Clements.
Jason Krychiw and the Assembly candidates on his slate dropped out of the race in April after Krychiw got caught lying about his resume, but it was too late for his name to be removed from the ballot.
There are less competitive primaries for State Senate in the 18th, 24th and 28th districts, and for Assembly in the 12th and 30th districts.
Here are the mayoral races to watch, in the order we’re watching them
* Edison: Councilman Sam Joshi has the organization line in the Democratic primary for mayor against Mahesh Bhagia, the Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman. Middlesex Democrats endorsed Joshi after the state attorney general empaneled a grand jury to probe a racist flyer in a local campaign four years ago that Bhagia allegedly masterminded. Joshi has the support of Murphy, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, Reps. Frank Pallone, Bonnie Watson Coleman and Andy Kim, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, State Sen. Vin Gopal, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Raj Mukherji, Sweeney, and Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe. The winner will face Republican Keith Hahn.
Parsippany: Former Councilman Louis Valori has the line for the Republican nomination, but he faces a challenge from former Mayor James Barberio, who was ousted by Democrat Michael Soriano in 2017. Soriano is unopposed in the Democratic primary in his bid for a second term.
* Atlantic City: Mayor Marty Small, Sr. faces a primary challenge from a pro-Trump Democrat, Thomas Foley, a former assemblyman and freeholder who has the backing of former City Council President Craig Callaway and the Atlantic City Democratic organization. Small has the organization line and the endorsement of Murphy.
* Camden: Mayor Vic Carstarphen, who took office last month, is seeking a four-year term in the Democratic primary. He has the endorsement of the potent Camden County Democratic machine, along with Murphy, Menendez, Booker and Rep. Donald Norcross. He faces school board member Eustis Custis, City Councilwoman Felicia Reyes-Morton, and Luis Quinones, a teacher.
* Lambertville: Former Mayor David DelVecchio is hoping to regain the job he held for 27 years until his defeat in the 2018 Democratic primary. The woman who ousted him, Julia Fahl, is not seeking re-election and DelVecchio is the favorite against Andrew Nowick, a political newcomer.
* Morristown: Mayor Tim Dougherty is seeking a fourth term against Esperanza Porras-Field, a perennial candidate whose only apparent strength is the endorsement of the Morristown PBA Local PBA 43.
We’re also watching some other local races
Also: a Democratic primary for two borough council seats in Red Bank, where incumbents Hazim Yassin and Kate Triggiano face a primary challenge from Bruce Maida and Jacqueline Sturdivant. All four candidates are listed in the Monmouth Democratic organization column.
Maida and Sturdivant have the backing of Democratic Municipal Chairman Ed Zipprich, but Yassin and Triggiano are backed by Murphy and Gopal.
In Toms River, there are Republican primaries for four ward council seats with contests. The most interesting one is in Ward 2, where incumbent Dan Rodrick, who was elected as a Democrat in 2017 but switched parties a year later, is running off the line for renomination against the organization candidate, Jason Crispin.
Three-term Cranford Township Committeeman Thomas Hannen lost party support for re-election and is running off the line against Kate Rappa. Rappa was endorsed by Murphy.
In Dover, three of four ward members of the Board of Aldermen face challenges in the Democratic primary. Murphy has taken sides in some of those races.
The New Jersey Globe will also keep an eye on a race for sixteen Democratic County Committee seats in Collingswood, where the Camden County Democratic organization is seeking take back seats they lost two years ago.
Progressives are trying to pick up some Democratic County Committee seats in Hudson; Republicans in Hudson have a county chairman fight brewing between longtime incumbent Jose Arango and outgoing Republican State Committeeman Joshua Sotomayor Einstein.
Less competitive are Democratic primaries for county clerk in Atlantic and Bergen, sheriff in Essex, and Register of Deeds and Mortgages in Hudson.
The GOP organization-backed candidate for the Bergen County sheriff, Robert Kugler, is currently faces criminal charges for allegedly providing free police escorts for a funeral home he owns. His Republican primary opponent is Harry Shortway, the 83-year-old mayor of Midland Park.