State Sen. Anthony Bucco and Denville Councilman Brian Bergen won the 25th district’s Assembly seats Tuesday, beating out challenges from Democrats Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger.
Bucco finished first with 26,848 votes, followed by Bergen with 25,552. Bhimani finished third with 23,505 and Draeger took in 22,850.
Bucco will decline the Assembly seat and set off a special election to fill the same.
The race in the 25th was upended after State Sen. Tony M. Bucco suddenly died of a massive heart attack.
The younger Bucco won his father’s seat without contest but remained on the Assembly ballot.
Though New Jersey judges are often lax with such things, the deadline to replace Bucco on the ballot had passed, and he chose to remain on the ballot, essentially asking the district’s voters to trust Republican County Committee members to pick a still-unnamed candidate to fill the seat.
While Democrats launched some attacks over the peculiarities, the race’s focus remained on other issues, namely guns and taxes.
Like many other Republicans in the state, Bucco and Bergen sought to link their Democratic opponents to Gov. Phil Murphy, hoping that the slow slide Murphy’s approvals have taken over the past six months would buoy chances of a GOP victory.
The Democrats kept Murphy at arms reach until the closing days of the election, when he and Rep. Tom Malinowski began appearing at multiple campaign events for the challengers.
Though it numbered among the state’s most competitive races, much less money was spent in the 25th district than other races where Democrats were hoping to pick up a seat or two.
By the end of October, candidates and outside groups had spent less than $1 million dollars on the contest, whereas races in the first and 21st districts had each wracked up spending totals in excess of $2 million.
Candidates there were still up on the air and in mailboxes, but spending still lagged.
That may have been because, win or lose, Bucco will be on the ballot again next year for what will then be the remaining year of his father’s unexpired term.
While their lead has shrunk over the past few years, there are still more Republicans in the 25th district than there are Democrats.
The GOP’s 7,606-voter registration lead sets it apart form most of the other districts like the 21st, where Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz are playing defense against Democratic challengers.
In the run-up to election day, Democrats in the 25th hoped that their base will continue to carry the energy, given to it by President Donald Trump, that handed them House seats in the seventh and 11th congressional districts last year.
Early vote-by-mail returns suggested it might. On Tuesday morning, Democrats held a seven-point lead in mail-in ballots based on party registration.