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New Jersey hasn’t had an African American Republican legislator since Tom Smith (R-Asbury Park) died in 2002.
That could change next month, if Antwan McClellan wins his bid for State Assembly in the potentially close 1st district Assembly race.
A McClellan victory could have a profound effect on legislative redistricting, if Republicans make the case that he ought to be protected as a minority opportunity district when the new lines are drawn in 2021. There is no likely scenario where any other Black or Hispanic Republican challenger wins this year.
In past redistricting, the tie-breaker has been swayed by the argument that since there are so few minorities in the New Jersey Legislature, maps should look to give them a decent chance of winning.
Two examples: in 2001, Republicans argued that Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove) was the only Asian-American in the New Jersey Legislature, the main reason why the Bergen County-based 40th district was drawn to link Mahwah with Cedar Grove. O’Toole has previously represented a district that extended from Cedar Grove to Roselle Park.
In 2011, Democrats argued for a safer 36th district because of the presence of a Latina on their Assembly ticket, Marlene Caride (D-Ridgefield). Six years later, Caride was named to Gov. Phil Murphy’s cabinet and replaced by Clinton Calabrese (D-Cliffside Park).
A win by McClellan could impact other key South Jersey political leaders, including Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Minority Deputy Conference Leader Chris Brown (R-Ventnor).
The path to making the 1st district more Republican is by dropping Vineland and Millville from the district.
In 2017, Assemblyman Bruce Land (D-Vineland) won Millville by 1,589 votes and Vineland by 2,557. Donald Trump lost Millville by 228 votes in 2016 and Vineland by 3,677.
During the last round of redistricting, Democratic staffers toyed with an Atlantic City to Vineland district that would have protected State Sen. James Whelan (D-Atlantic City) and helped Democrats unseat two Republican assemblymen.
Vineland and Millville could wind up in Sweeney’s 3rd district, perhaps in place of Salem County and Franklin (Gloucester County). That might require some shifting to protect Sweeney’s running mate, Adam Taliaferro (D-Woolwich).
If Cumberland County GOP Chairman Michael Testa wins his Senate race against incumbent Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle), it makes GOP-friendly changes to the 1st district more challenging, since Testa is from Vineland.
Republicans would probably look to shed Millville, but Salem County – about the size of Old Bridge – is too small to be carved up.