Assemblyman Jon Bramnick and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz have fended off challenges from Democrats Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman to win re-election in the 21st legislative district.
Bramnick ran in first with 28,787 votes, and Munoz won 28,079. Mandelblatt finished 2,672 votes behind Munoz. Gunderman was last, coming in 3,922 votes behind Bramnick
The race in the 21st saw Democrats lending most of their focus to guns after an armed man was arrested in the parking lot of a Westfield school with a handgun and 130 rounds of ammunition.
Mandelblatt and Gunderman took to attacking Bramnick over his record on guns.
The National Rifle Association gave Bramnick 100% ratings in 2017 and 2015. In 2019, that rating dropped to 53% after Bramnick voted for a series of gun control bills, including a bill reducing the maximum legal magazine capacity to 10 rounds, though he only backed the measure after it was amended to allow residents to keep high-capacity magazines registered with law enforcement.
Like many others in the state, the Republicans in the 21st centered their campaign message around taxes and Gov. Phil Murphy.
Many of those pleas, made directly to voters through mailers and television advertisements, featured Bramnick alone without his running mate.
Four years ago, observers would have gaped at the prospect of the 21st district being in play, but races there have grown ever tighter, and Democrats now hold the registration lead.
In 2015, Bramnick and Munoz won re-election with a solid nine-point cushion. In 2017, after President Donald Trump was elected, they emerged with far narrower leads. Bramnick beat Democratic challenger Lacey Rzeszowski by two points. Munoz beat her by one.
Meanwhile, Democrats tightened then reversed Republicans’ voter registration edge in the district.
In 2015, there were 3,672 more Republicans than Democrats in the district. In 2017, Democrats had a registration lead of 1,635. At the start of November 2019, Democrats edge had grown to 5,392.
Democrats went into election day with a sizable lead in mail-in ballots. By party registration, they had a 14-point edge.
The Republicans also had to contend with two conservative independent candidates who were running almost explicitly to siphon off votes from the Republican incumbents.
Harry Pappas and Martin Marks at points went as far as urging moderates to vote for the Democratic challengers over Bramnick and Munoz.
They hit Bramnick on immigration, citing his law firm’s website, which offered aid to those seeking asylum, among other things.
That website landed Bramnick into hot water in October, after the New Jersey Globe reported that it offered to “discredit” sexual assault accusers.
The race was the most expensive one in the state save the contest in the first district, which is host to the year’s only State Senate race.
At the end of October, candidates and outside groups had spent more than $2.1 million on the contest.
A fair amount of that money came from Assembly Republican Victory, Bramnick’s leadership PAC.
The group played so heavily in the race that other districts Republicans were aiming to flip, including the second, 11th and 16th, have become almost non-competitive.
The distribution of leadership funds pushed some Republican lawmakers to consider whether Bramnick should continue to lead the Assembly GOP.
Click play for audio version of this story