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The State House in Trenton. (Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Assembly incumbents hold massive cash lead over challengers

ELEC says incumbents out-raised challengers 12-1

By Nikita Biryukov, May 31 2019 10:35 am

Incumbents defending their Assembly seats have a massive cash lead over their challengers, according to data released by the Election Law Enforcement Commission Friday.

Lawmakers defending their seats had $5.8 banked compared to their challengers’ collective $522,039.

“On average, 97% of Assembly incumbents have won reelection since 2001,” said Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s Executive Director. “One of the main reasons is their massive funding advantage. For instance, special interest political action committees tend to send far more checks to incumbents instead of challengers because incumbents already hold office and are in a position to advocate their interests.”

Incumbents hold even wider leads in fundraising and spending than they do in cash-on-hand.

According to ELEC, incumbents have outraised their challengers by a 12-1 margin, bringing in $11.5 million to the Assembly hopefuls’ $898,888.

The gap in spending was even broader. Incumbents have spent $5.7 million in their re-election bids, while the challengers have spent a measly $376,849.

That means incumbents have spent roughly 15 times as much in their bids than their opponents have.

Despite all 80 of the state’s Assembly seats coming up for election this year, there are few truly competitive primaries.

There are primary challenges in 15 districts this year, with Democratic insurgents mounting challenges in 13 districts and their GOP counterparts attempting to oust sitting lawmakers in three districts.

The eighth legislative district is host to primary contests on both sides of the aisle.

There, Assemblyman Ryan Peters and former Burlington Jean Stanfield are running against Assemblyman Joe Howarth, who lost party support over a belief, held by Burlington County Republicans, that he attempted to jump to the Democratic party along with State Sen. Dawn Addiego when she defected from the GOP earlier this year.

A fourth Republican candidate, Jason Huf, is also seeking the nomination.

On the Democratic side, county-backed candidates Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale face a primary challenge from Johnny Bravo.

Democrats hold a significant fundraising lead statewide. They’ve raised about $9 million to Republicans’ $3 million and have outspent them $4.3 million to $1.7 million.

Through May 21, Democrats had roughly $5 million banked, while GOP candidates had $1.4 million.

Spending by outside groups has been scarce so far. ELEC said that only Stronger Foundations, Inc., a super PAC run by Operating Engineers Local 825 was the only group to report spending anything in the 11-day pre-election reports.

The group reported spending $15,000 in the 17th legislative district, where Assemblymen Joe Egan and Joe Danielsen are facing a primary challenge from progressive candidate Ron Rivers.

Stronger foundation is backing the incumbents.

“While total independent spending still could go up in the primary, spending to date is miniscule compared to the $900,000 spent in the 2015 legislative primary, and $2.2 million in the 2017 primary,’’ said Brindle.

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