Fresh off his landslide victory in Thursday’s special election convention, Assemblyman-elect Alex Sauickie (R-Jackson) must immediately pivot to his next campaign: a November special election for an unexpired term.
Democrats have a chance to flip the Republican seat held for the last nineteen years by Ronald Dancer (R-Plumsted), a popular conservative who died last month.
But the elongated 12th legislative district, which has a view of Staten Island from Old Bridge and the Pine Barrens from New Hanover, is tough terrain for Democrats, especially in a federal mid-term election year.
Republican Jack Ciattarelli won the 12th with 64% last year against Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and State Sen. Samuel Thompson (R-Old Bridge) was re-elected with 65% and a 21,576-vote margin against Democrat Joe Altamonte, the mayor of Matawan.
In 2020, Donald Trump carried the district by 14 points, and Republican congressional candidates took it by 17 points.
This will be the last election under the legislative map approved in 2011. Next year, candidate will run in the redrawn 12th district, which drops three of the four municipalities in Burlington and replaces them with Spotswood and Helmetta in Middlesex. The district is still Republican, but Murphy ran two points better under the new map.
Democrats in Burlington, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties have just recently begun a search for their candidate against Sauickie, the New Jersey Globe has learned. There is no clear favorite – indeed, no Democrat has entered the race so far — and it’s unlikely they will call a special election before Labor Day.
The deadline to choose their nominee is September 15. There will also be an opportunity for independents candidates to get on the ballot for the seat through by petition; the filing deadline is September 8.
Privately, Democrats think this race is unachievable now that Sauickie has won the seat and the nomination.
They might have had an alternate take had the vote gone to Domenick Cuozzo, a pastor and Plumsted Township Committeeman whose positions on gay marriage, abortion – earlier this year, he argued that Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Manchester), a former executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, was not pro-life enough – and the separation of church and state might have caused him to look at lawmakers like Parker Space (R-Wantage) as too liberal.
Sauickie clobbered Cuozzo, winning by 40 percentage points. That keeps him in the Assembly until the winner of the November special election is certified. Republicans also voted to nominate Sauickie as their candidate complete Dancer’s term.
There are still some possible loose ends that might not go away until the filing deadline, especially if Sauickie’s hometown political opponents in deeply divided Jackson decide to run someone as an independent. Mayor Michael Reina, who is seeking re-election in the non-partisan November election, had reportedly backed Cuozzo, along with some Orthodox Jewish county committee members in Jackson.
(Sauickie was up for re-election this year. Instead, he will resign his seat to become an assemblyman.)
But Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University thinks that the 12th is winnable for Democrats under the right circumstances.
“This happens to the legislative district I live in, and I can attest there’s a large undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the way these communities are being overdeveloped, particularly Jackson, which is creating spillover impacts beyond its borders,” Rasmussen said. “I think a grassroots campaign could be won from the bottom up. Many of the people who have moved to these communities are not locked into one party or the other, so they could be up for grabs.”
Still Rasmussen doesn’t think Democrats will “absolutely not” expend resources for an uphill fight one year before they must defend control of the legislature under a map that gives Republicans a path, albeit it a difficult one, to majorities.
“There’s a reason why Democrats and Republicans choose to compete in some districts and not others,” Rasmussen said.