Republicans look like they are playing to win in the 38th district State Assembly race, where they have fielded one of their strongest slates in years to challenge a pair of incumbent Democrats.
Paramus councilman Christopher DiPiazza and Rochelle Park mayor Michael Kazimir will challenge incumbents Lisa Swain (D-Fair Lawn) and Christopher Tully (D-Bergenfield) in a district that has not elected a Republican to the Assembly in eighteen years.
The 27-year-old DiPiazza is considered one of the rising stars of Bergen County Republican politics. Party leaders said last year that they would not run him in a special election for Assembly because they wanted to hold him back for a winnable race.
This is the first year when candidates were selected by Bergen County Republican chairman Jack Zisa, a former Hackensack mayor who won the post after the 2018 primary.
DiPiazza was the top vote-getter in the 2017 Paramus council campaign, ousting incumbent Joseph Garcia by 146 votes.
Kazimir, 41, won his second term on the township committee in 2018 in a landslide, beating Republican-turned-Democrat Joseph Scarpa, a former mayor, by more than twenty percentage points.
Kazimir’s running mate, Nicholas LiBassi, unseated incumbent mayor William Hauser by an equally large margin, even though Rochelle Park went Democratic in races for U.S. Senate, Congress, county executive, sheriff and freeholder.
Swain and Tully arrived in the Assembly in 2018 after a complicated series of job switches.
State Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Fair Lawn) left the legislature to become a commissioner of the state Board of Public Utilities. Assemblyman Joseph Lagana (D-Fair Lawn) moved up to the Senate and Timothy Eustace (D-Maywood), unhappy that he was passed over for Gordon’s seat, resigned from the Assembly and took a job as deputy executive director of the North Jersey District Water Commission.
Republicans did not seriously contest the 38th last year.
Lagana won 60% in his special election against Daisy Ortiz-Berger, who had already lost race for freeholder and River Edge council.
Swain (47,865) and Tully (46,406) easily defeated Republicans retired teacher Gail Horton (32,310) and former Rochelle Park mayor Jayme Ouellette (31,833).
Paramus has long been the swing town in the 38th, which was drawn to be politically competitive even though Democrats have not lost since 2001. Republicans are banking on DiPiazza as the only Paramus candidate in the race.
There are 20,656 more Democrats than Republicans in the 38th. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the district by ten points, as did Barak Obama over Mitt Romney.
When the map was drawn in 2011, the Democratic voter registration advantage was 12,206.
The closest race in recent years was 2013, when Scarpa came within 56 votes of unseating Eustace and former Lodi High School principal Joan Fragala lost to Lagana by just 443 votes.
The 38th includes Bergenfield, Fair Lawn, Glen Rock, Hasbrouck Heights, Lodi, Maywood, New Milford, Oradell, Paramus, River Edge, Rochelle Park, and Saddle Brook in Bergen County and Hawthorne in Passaic.