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Chester Municipal Democratic Chairwoman Darcy Draeger. Photo by Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe.

Bhimani, Draeger maintain focus on guns, healthcare

Challengers haven’t been drawn in by oddities around Bucco’s candidacy

By Nikita Biryukov, November 02 2019 8:13 pm

Democratic challengers in the 25th district haven’t pivoted away from issues like guns and healthcare for an increased focus on the peculiarities of State Sen. Anthony Bucco’s Assembly candidacy.

“When we’re on the doors, it doesn’t come up as much. Some people are aware of what’s going on. Some people aren’t,” Chester Democratic Chairwoman Darcy Draeger said. “When I’m talking to voters, the first thing I want to know is what issues are important to them. What are they concerned about living in New Jersey?”

Voters answer that taxes, health care and moderate gun control measures are at the top of their minds, Draeger said.

The farmer is running alongside obstetrician Lisa Bhimani for the district’s two vacant Assembly seats, one emptied by Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll’s retirement and the other by Bucco’s ascent to the legislature’s upper chamber following the death of his father.

Draeger said the Democrats have knocked more than 18,000 doors this season, with the candidate alone responsible for roughly 4,400. It remains to be seen whether that’s enough to defeat Denville Councilman Brian Bergen and Bucco, who remains on the ballot but intends to decline the seat if he wins the race.

“We’re not just targeting 4/4 voters. For GOTV, obviously, we’re knocking for supporters and trying to turn out the vote, but we’ve been out knocking aggressively since before the primary, and we’ve been talking to everybody,” Draeger said. “We’ve gone way down the support scale because we think that we are compelling candidates and we’ve got the right priorities and the right values for our district.”

Despite the race’s competitive nature — the New Jersey Globe rates both of the districts seats as a toss-up — spending in the 25th has lagged behind that of some less competitive races.

A report release by the Election Law Enforcement Commission on Friday put the total amount spent on the race at $889,033.

That’s less than half of the $2,152,408 spent in the neighboring 21st district, where Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz are defending their seats from Democratic challengers Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman.

It’s also less than spending in the competitive eighth district, as well as the markedly-less contested races in the 11th, 16th and second districts.

Candidate spending in the ELEC report is based on candidate filings put in on Oct. 25 and independent spending reports through Oct. 31, so the totals are likely to have changed since then, though not significantly.

That wasn’t a concern for Draeger.

“We worked really hard to raise money. We raised what we think we’ve needed,” Draeger said. “We’re on TV, We’re in mailboxes. We’re doing everything that we want to do, and so I think it’s just what we think the needs of the district are from an outreach and communication perspective.”

Most of the spending in the race is done at this point, with candidate focused on door-knocking their supporters to remind them that there’s an election on Tuesday.

Bhimani and Draeger have little planned for the next three days aside from canvassing and calls, though they are getting help from some big-name Democrats in that regard.

Rep. Tom Malinowski headlined a canvass launch at Draeger’s farm in Chester Saturday morning, and Gov. Phil Murphy headlined another at a Bakery in Dover, a Democratic stronghold, around the same time.

The Democrats currently hold a lead of close to 7% in vote by mail ballots. It remains to be seen whether that lead holds on election day.

“I’m feeling great. You want to come into GOTV feeling like you haven’t left anything on the table,” Draeger said. “We certainly haven’t.”

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