In what is perhaps the state’s most competitive primary, a former assemblyman with party backing for the State Senate nod will face off against a former congressional candidate who’s won off-the-line once before.
Vince Polistina has the support of Atlantic County Republicans for his bid to succeed State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Ventnor City), who is not seeking re-election this year, but he faces a challenge from former Atlantic County Freeholder Seth Grossman.
The contest in the second district is in some ways a miniature version of the schism facing Republicans nationally. Polistina is running with a traditional Republican message. Taxes, he said, are too high, and Democratic politicians like Gov. Phil Murphy and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) are ruining the state.
Grossman, meanwhile, has taken aim at culture issues popularized among Republicans under the tenure of former President Donald Trump. He’s urged voters to boycott Coca Cola over the company’s opposition to a set of restrictive voting laws in Georgia and taken aim at “woke” Democrats.
Polistina has the Atlantic County line, and the advantage that poses isn’t lost on Grossman, whose own name will appear a few columns of empty space away.
“I believe I had enough money to deliver my message, and I believe that message resonated with most voters. That includes voters I need to win in November, not just Republicans. In spite of that, I have to worry about my horrible ballot position,” Grossman told the New Jersey Globe. “If voters look for me and find me, I should win. However, that is a big ‘if.’”
In recent days, the district’s Republican primary has taken a negative turn, with the former congressional candidate launching attacks over public contracts held by Polistina’s engineering firm. The offensive is reminiscent of one Polistina faced during his 2011 bid for State Senate.
It’s a divisiveness the county-backed candidate would have preferred to avoid.
“I think it’s not a tenor I would’ve liked,” he said. “I think if you look at our campaign, I’ve focused on Phil Murphy, Vince Mazzeo — the people I think that we need to change in order to change New Jersey — so I think some of the stuff is unfortunate. Anytime you see divisiveness in a primary, it’s not good.”
The two campaigns aren’t being run in the same way. Polistina’s team has resources behind it that Grossman’s lacks. The candidate launched roughly 50 canvassers from its campaign headquarters — that of Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) — Sunday morning. He was joined by GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Jack Ciattarelli and a spate of Atlantic County’s Republican officials.
Grossman, on the other hand, has focused his efforts on less expensive and less taxing means of reaching voters. That includes calls, emails, social media posts and blog posts.
“It is a real battle to break away to meet voters and supporters in person. Or even to post comments on important new issues and events. I also spent a lot of time, but not enough, asking for money,” he said. “Tomorrow should be more of the same. If I get the office work under control, I would like to go out and meet voters.”
But a Grossman win wouldn’t be the strangest thing in the world. Two polls last month showed him with a narrow lead over Polistina, and an off-the-line win would be his second since 2018, when he defeated a spate of county-backed Republicans for the nod in the second congressional district.
But both sides have a shot at the nod to take on Mazzeo.
“I feel great. I think the support we’ve got and the people donating, helping, contributing, volunteering this campaign have been tremendous,” Polistina said. “I’m buoyed by all the excitement and energy we’ve gotten and looking forward to beating Seth Grossman on Tuesday and moving onto the general election.”