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

Despite competitive races, 2019 election spending lowest in a decade

First, 21st districts hosted New Jersey’s most expensive contests

By Nikita Biryukov, December 03 2019 10:31 am

Despite the number of hotly-contested races, this year’s elections were the least expensive ones New Jersey has seen in a decade, according to a report released by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The total price tags for the year’s state-level races, which included all 80 of New Jersey’s Assembly seats and a single Senate seat, was just $25 million.

In 2017, that number was $67 million. In 2015 — the last time Assembly seats were at the top of the ticket — it was roughly $34 million before adjustments for inflation.

“This year’s election was the most low-key legislative race in a decade,” said Brindle. “It followed one of the most controversial, expensive legislative races in history in 2017. Maybe campaign donors needed a break,” ELEC director Jeff Brindle said. “I also think parties and independent groups may be looking ahead and saving their money for next year, when there will be a presidential election and campaigns to fill 12 New Jersey congressional seats.”

With a total price tag just short of $3 million, the first legislative district was host to the state’s most expensive race.

State Sen.-elect Michael Testa and his running mates ousted Democratic incumbents there, winning the only new seats for either party this year.

The 25th legislative district, which is represented by Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, came a close second with $2.7 million spent.

The eighth district contest saw $2.1 million spent.

Spending in those two districts was enough to make them the fifth and 10th-most costly Assembly-only races in the state’s history after adjustments for inflation.

Price tags in the state’s other competitive districts — $1.9 million in the 11th, $1.3 million in the 16th, $1.3 million in the 25th and $1.2 million in the second — accounted for almost all of the state’s most expensive races.

The 39th district, where Democrats believed they could oust Assemblyman Bob Auth, was the 10th-most expensive race with $640,858 spent.

Though it did not help them flip any seats, Democratic candidates outspent their Republican opponents more than three to one, with Democrats putting up nearly $18 million to Republicans’ roughly $6 million.

Democrats’ margin was even greater when it came to outside spending.

Independent expenditure groups made purchases worth just over $4 million on behalf of Democrats, while outside groups spent just shy of $1 million on Republican candidates.

General Majority, a PAC with ties to South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, secured the top spot with about $2.8 million spent.

ELEC’s findings are based on 20-day pre-election reports filed by candidates and post-election reports filed by outside groups.

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