When Port Authority Commissioner Rob Menendez and Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-Newark) won their respective Democratic primaries two weeks ago for dark-blue North Jersey congressional districts, they did so in landslides, with around 83% of the vote each.
Menendez and Payne both had areas of their district, however, where they only won by large margins rather than gargantuan ones. The 8th district is majority Hispanic and the 10th district majority Black, but each include towns that are much whiter than the district overall – and it was in those towns that Menendez’s and Payne’s off-the-line opponents did best.
The difference was especially stark in the 8th district, which includes most of Hudson County as well as Elizabeth and Latino-heavy neighborhoods in Newark.
Menendez, the son of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, absolutely dominated in the parts of the district that are mostly Hispanic. In Union City (82% Hispanic), for example, Menendez got 94% of the vote; in North Bergen (71% Hispanic), he got 93% of the vote.
On the other hand, the parts of Jersey City that are in the 8th district (23% Hispanic) gave Menendez 64% of the vote, while Hoboken (14% Hispanic) gave him 69% of the vote. Underfunded left-winger David Ocampo Grajales got just 11% of the vote districtwide, but in Jersey City he earned 27%. (Jersey City also represents the 8th district’s one major hub of Asian American voters, so it may not just have been white voters who were less inclined to back Menendez.)
Of course, Menendez won even the unfriendliest towns by a healthy margin; if every town in the district voted like Jersey City, Menendez would still be well on his way to Congress to replace Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York). And there was nothing in the results to indicate that Ocampo Grajales or Menendez’s other challenger, Ane Roseborough-Eberhard, will be major figures going forward.
Still, the results are nonetheless a sign that the power of the Hudson County line and the Menendez name are stronger in heavily Hispanic towns.
In the Newark-based 10th district, meanwhile, Payne didn’t get less than 70% of the vote anywhere, but there were still noticeable variations among towns.
The 10th district’s parts of Newark (73% Black), the Payne family’s longtime political base, gave the congressman 88% of the vote against challengers Imani Oakley and Akil Khalfani, whose campaigns never made much headway. Payne’s margins were even more inflated in Irvington (84% Black) and East Orange (86% Black), where he won with 92% and 90% of the vote, respectively.
The 10th district also includes some much whiter suburbs, however, where Payne tended to do 10 to 15 points worse.
Cranford (4% Black) gave him 74%, while Verona (also 4% Black) gave him 78%. Most interestingly, the parts of Montclair in the 10th district, which have a large number of upscale white voters despite being 55% Black overall, gave Payne 75%, his second-lowest total anywhere in the district.
Importantly, the 10th district’s population is heavily skewed towards Black areas, and majority-white towns only make up a small portion of the district. The trio of Verona, Essex Fells, and Caldwell, for example, cast a total of 1,432 votes in this year’s primary, versus 1,868 votes cast in Irvington alone.
And the distinction between 75% and 90% of the vote is ultimately a minor one for Payne, who was in no real danger of losing regardless. It’s notable that the congressman was able to score large victories even in the heavily white suburbs that have no longstanding connection with the Payne name; after years of skating by under the radar, Payne has made himself a force to be reckoned with in his district.
But both Payne and Menendez, and the party organizations that backed them, clearly resonated the most with their districts’ Black and Hispanic voters – and may have to watch out in whiter areas if stronger challengers were to emerge.