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Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe.

In key Assembly districts, Murphy struggles for approvals

Polls show governor even in 21st, upside-down in districts 8, 11, 25 and 39

By David Wildstein, October 30 2019 5:33 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy has upside-down approval ratings in several of the most closely-watched State Assembly districts as Democrats look to add seats to their 54-26 majority, according to recent Democratic polling obtained and reviewed by the New Jersey Globe.

Murphy is even in the 21st district, where Democrats are trying to flip seats held by Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Minority Whip Nancy Munoz (R-Summit).  Polling shows the governor at 38%-38%.

But in the next-door, Morris County-based 25th district, Murphy’s approvals are at 32%-41%.

Those numbers are likely the reason Democratic Assembly candidate Darcy Draeger felt emboldened enough to say at a debate this week that Murphy is “probably going to be a one-term governor.”

In the 8th district, where Republicans are playing defense to hold on to two South Jersey seats, Murphy’s approvals are at 34%-42%.

The governor is at 35%-39% in the 39th district, where Democrats have flirted with an uphill race to unseat incumbents Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) and Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan).

And in District 11, where incumbents Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune) and Joann Downey look to be in strong shape for third terms, Murphy is at 36%-41%.

In two districts where Democratic incumbents are also favored to win again – the 16th and 38th — Murphy’s favorables outnumber his unfavorable.

Between Friday and Sunday, the governor and First Lady Tammy Murphy have scheduled a combined 26 campaign stops on their schedule.  More events are expected to be added for Monday and Tuesday.

Eight years into the current legislative map, Republicans are largely playing defense in several districts they had held for the first half of the decade.

Democrats have not won the 21st district since 1989, the 25th since 1977, and the 8th since 1973.  While the maps are hardly identical, the anchor towns remain the same.

For better or worse, Murphy owns the 2019 mid-term elections – at least from a historical perspective.  He will get credit for pickups and take the lumps for

While the governor’s impact on legislative races might be dissected in the coming weeks, the long-term effect will be that his party either won or lost seats in Assembly races two years after taking office.

“Governors are the center of the political universe in New Jersey,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Center for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.  “Mid-term elections are a referendum on the performance of the party in power.  “It’s one of the benchmarks we use.”

Sometimes asterisk could be assigned to individual races.

In 2003, Gov. James E. McGreevey had upside-down 35%-52% approvals in a late September Quinnipiac University poll, but Democrats still won two Senate seats and three Assembly seats.

Co-Senate President John Bennett lost his seat to Democrat Ellen Karcher (D-Marlboro) based on his own ethical woes that overcame any natural tendency for a governor to lose seats in the mid-term election.  Democrat Fred Madden (D-Washington) ousted State Sen. George Geist (R-Gloucester Township) by 63 votes after South Jersey Democrats spent millions on the race.

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