A Republican internal poll in the 16th district is showing a tie between the two candidates for the open seat of retiring GOP State Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg).
The poll, conducted by 3D Strategic Research and reviewed by the New Jersey Globe, shows Republican Michael Pappas, a former congressman, and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) are even at 44%.
“The closeness of the state senate race is not being driven by name ID, but by a favorable political environmental where unaffiliated voters side with Republicans,” said pollster David Kanevsky.
The poll shows Gov. Phil Murphy in a statistical dead heat with Jack Ciattarelli in the legislative district the GOP gubernatorial candidate represented for six years. Murphy leads Ciattarelli, 44%-43%.
“Both Ciattarelli and Pappas are overcoming the Democratic registration edge in this district because they are winning Unaffiliated voters by between 14% and 20%,” Kanevsky said. “Unaffiliated voters in this district are looking for a change from Democratic control in Trenton as a majority – 52% — think the state is off on the wrong track and 51% are unfavorable to Governor Murphy.”
Somerset County has not elected a Democrat to the State Senate since 1902, but the county and the 16th legislative district have shifted heavily Democratic over the last six years.
Bateman won his fourth term by just 574 votes in 2017 against Democrat Laurie Poppe, 50.5%-49.5%.
Joe Biden carried the 16th district by 28,165 votes, 61%-38%, over Donald Trump. Both the Assembly seats in the district are occupied by Democrats, and all countywide offices in Somerset are held by Democrats.
The 16th has 21,198 more Democrats than Republicans, up from 5,275 when the district was first drawn ten years ago.
Zwicker captured an Assembly seat in 2015, ousting incumbent Donna Simon (R-Readington) by 78 votes in a once-solidly Republican district that became competitive after 2011 redistricting replaced heavily-GOP Bridgewater with the Democratic strongholds of Princeton and South Brunswick.
A Democratic poll conducted weeks before the 2015 election and obtained by the New Jersey Globe showed Ciattarelli with relatively low name identification. He had a statistically even approval rating in his old legislative district of 18%-19% and favorables of 23%-15%.
Ciattarelli won his third term that year by a relatively narrow margin. He ran 347 votes ahead of Simon and 534 votes in front of Democrat Maureen Vella.
The 57-year-old Princeton University physicist easily won re-election in 2017, with Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) capturing the second seat against Simon.
Freiman replaced Ciattarelli, who have up the 16th district Assembly seat to seek the GOP nomination for governor.
Republicans also say they are playing for two Assembly seats in the 16th, which includes parts of Somerset, Hunterdon, Mercer and Middlesex counties.
“The generic state legislative ballot shows voters evenly divided between a Republican and Democratic candidate at 46% each,” Kanevsky stated.
Freiman is seeking re-election to a third term. Former Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer is the Democratic candidate for Zwicker’s open seat.
They face Republicans Vincent Panico, the president of the Hunterdon Central Regional Board of Education, and Manville Councilman Joseph Lukac. Lukac, an IBEW Local 102 member, has snared endorsements from the New Jersey AFL-CIO and the state Building and Construction Trades Council.
“This data proves that New Jerseyans are laser focused on replacing Phil Murphy and his Democrat enablers in the Legislature who have made our state weaker and unfairer in just four short years,” said Dan Scharfenberger, the executive director of the Senate Republican Majority Campaign Committee. “Senate Republicans have a better message and better messengers across the state to win these close races and make a difference in Trenton.”
The GOP poll was conducted for the New Jersey Senate Republican Campaign Committee and sampled 300 probably voters with a margin of error of +/- 5.66%.