With the 2018 campaign now in the rear view mirror, the focus of New Jersey politics now includes the race for 80 seats in the New Jersey State Assembly that are up for grabs in November 2019.
There should be no mistake: control of the Assembly is not at stake. Republicans are not in the mix to control the Assembly. Democrats have a lock on 44 seats — three more than they need for a majority.
Eight Democratic incumbents in four districts face the possibility of a campaign in 2019, and two of them are more likely to wind up in the Safe Democratic column than a shift toward the Republicans. Six Republican seats might also be in play. Democrats have a map that has only become better for them since the start of the decade.
It’s too early to say if Democrats will be playing offense or defense next year. That depends on how Donald Trump or Phil Murphy affect the 2019 political landscape in New Jersey. Republicans will likely find it more difficult to recruit top tier challengers in the aftermath of Bob Hugin getting smoked. Democrats have a significant financial advantage in legislative elections.
One important note: these ratings reflect the chances of a part winning the seat in a General Election. There are several incumbents who may be vulnerable in a primary or get tossed from an organization line in a county where that would be career-ending.
The New Jersey Globe Assembly Race Ratings puts all 80 seats into four categories: Safe, Likely, Leans and Toss-Up.
To start, there are no Toss-Up seats. That will change for sure, but right now there are no seats that can be placed in a Toss-Up column in the absence of a challenger.
There are some races to watch:
* District 1: The election of Jeff Van Drew to Congress will mean a 2019 special election for State Senate, where assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle) is the front-runner for appointment to the Senate. If that happens, Democrats will pick someone to run with Bruce Land (D-Vineland) for Assembly. Bottom line is that Van Drew not being on the ticket strengthens the chances of Republicans picking up seats in the Cape May/Cumberland district. Republicans have a small voter registration edge (45,161 to 41,694) in a district that Donald Trump won in 2016 and Bob Hugin carried in 2018. The GOP has not yet picked their candidates.
* District 2: The Atlantic County seat is a swing district, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans by 20,860. Republican Chris Brown won a state senate seat in 2017 and he’s motivated to take out the two Democratic assemblymen. Republicans might also have popular county executive Dennis Levinson on the ticket. A lot will depend on the quality of challengers Brown and Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis are able to recruit. Vincent Mazzeo (D-Northfield) beat John Amodeo by 40 votes in 2013; he and John Armato (D-Buena) won by more than 5,000 votes last year.
*District 8: Burlington County has turned blue and the 8th is the next target. Indeed, there is no district in the state where Republican incumbents are in more trouble. The district has 6,694 more Democrats than Republicans. In 2017, State Sen. Dawn Addiego (R-Evesham) was held to 52%, and the Republican assembly candidates almost lost. Joe Howarth (R-Evesham) was re-elected by 645 votes and Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport) won by just 350 votes. Democrats have still not picked their candidates — George Youngkin, who almost topped Addiego and who will spend a minute as a freeholder in January, is out; Joanne Schwartz, who almost beat Peters, was elected county clerk this week.
* District 11: Democrats Joanne Downey (D-Freehold) and Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune) were upset winners in 2015, and won second terms rather easily in 2017 when State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank) didn’t want to be upstaged in her own re-election campaign with any focus on the Assembly seats. Now the guy who beat her — and the Democrat who engineered the 2015 campaign in the first place — State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch), will be all-in to get his two running mates re-elected. That’s something Ellen Karcher didn’t do in 2005, when Beck took out an assemblyman as a launching point to take the Senate seat in 2007. Like everywhere else, Monmouth Republicans can’t in without serious challengers.
* District 16: When Princeton and South Brunswick were added to the 16th in 2011, the district was destined to flip at some point. Democrat Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) took out Republican Donna Simon in 2015 — by 78 votes. In 2017, Zwicker won easily — he beat Mark Caliguire by 5,192 votes. Democrat Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) beat Simon for an Jack Ciattarelli’s open seat by 3,040 votes. Republican State Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg) was held to 52%. Caliguire had said he might run again, but he lost his freeholder seat this week by a wide margin and would no longer be viewed as a real contender. Republicans will need to play outside the box to beat Zwicker and Freiman. The 16th now has 14,019 more Democrats than Republicans.
* District 21: Leonard Lance got clobbered in the 21st district after representing most of it for ten years and it’s not clear that Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) will be immune to the same kind of campaign. The district has become more Democratic since the map was drawn in 2011; now there are 3,580 more Democrats than Republicans. Onetime Republican strongholds like Summit and Westfield are blue towns now — Bob Menendez and Tom Malinowski won them both. Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) won by just 1,554 votes in 2017 against Lacey Rzeszowksi and its foreseeable that she could lose in 2019, especially without Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. on the ballot. Bramnick, the Assembly Minority Leader, won by 4,035 in the last election. That’s better than Munoz, but Bramnick had to work a bit — and spend some money on cable TV ads — to get there. After 15 years in office, it’s possible that he could be in trouble too.
* District 25: The announced retirement of Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Township) creates a rare open seat and takes the top vote-getter out of the game. Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) won re-election in 2017 by just 2,430 votes, the weakest showing of his career. His father, State Sen. Anthony R. Bucco (R-Boonton) is not up this year; he almost lost last time, getting just 52% against first-time candidate Lisa Bhimani, who turned out to be a skilled campaigner. The fight for the Republican nomination hasn’t taken shape yet — only Denville councilman Brian Bergen has announced — and the local party struggles with fundraising and unity. Republicans still have a registration edge — 9,032 more Republicans than Democrats — but Demcoratic congressional candidates Mikie Sherrill and Tom Malinowski won the towns in the 25th by 9,479 votes, a 55%-45% win over Republicans Jay Webber and Leonard Lance.
* District 38: Lisa Swain (D-Fair Lawn) and Christopher Tully (D-Bergenfield) each won special elections this week. Swain just slightly ahead of Tully; she got 59% and he received 58%. Republicans got off a to a late start for reasons that were entirely their fault. Vacancies occurred in May and the Republicans did not pick their candidates until September, just before the deadline. The GOP picked weak candidates, had no money, and faced a difficult political environment; still, they broke 40%. The bottom line is that the 38th has become increasingly more Democrats this decade and the Republicans haven’t really competed there since 2013, when Joe Scarpa came within 56 votes of ousting a Democratic assemblyman. The registration gap has also widened: when the district was drawn in 2011, there were about 12,000 more Democrats than Republicans; now it’s over 20,000. Unless Republicans can recruit top tier challengers (they missed badly in 2015 with author Anthony Cappola and in 2017 one GOP candidate dropped out and endorsed the Democrats), the 38th can easily shift into the Safe Democratic column.New Jersey Globe 2019 Assembly Race Ratings 11092018