Democratic candidates in the 21st legislative district are sticking to door-knocking with days left until primary polls open on June 4.
“At this point, it’s get out the vote. It’s not persuasion,” said Lisa Mandelblatt, who is running as a team with New Providence’s Democratic Municipal Chairwoman Stacey Gunderman. “Except for most people, they haven’t met us yet, so it’s a great first touch.”
The two are facing attorney Jill LaZare, who this year is mounting her fourth bid to unseat incumbent Republican lawmakers in the district.
Democrats want to oust Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit).
The bracketed candidates’ bids will get a boost from Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill) on Sunday. The congressman will host a canvass launch for their campaigns and join in on the door-knocking effort personally.
Malinowski endorsed Mandelblatt and Gunderman in February.
“Tom Malinowski will be joining us to canvass tomorrow, Sunday. And we’re looking forward to that. He understands the value of knocking on doors,” Gunderman said. “He had the strongest field program of any congressional campaign and knows what it means to talk to voters one-on-one, so we’re thrilled to have him with us tomorrow and we’re thrilled to have his support.”
The two are aiming to have knocked on 2,000 doors by the time polls close on Tuesday. They say they’ll have topped 1,000 doors by the end of Saturday and have made more than 1,000 phone calls during phone banks.
LaZare’s efforts have been similarly focused — like Mandelblatt and Gunderman, she was knocking on doors in Summit Saturday — but unlike those two, LaZare isn’t holding on to her cash for the general.
Mandelblatt and Gunderman aren’t sending out any more mailers ahead of election day.
Neither camp is up on the air with ads.
“I think that they must feel very confident,” LaZare said. “I hope it’s ill-founded.”
LaZare, who ran for the district’s State Senate seat in 2017 and for Assembly there in 2015 and 2013, has sent out two mailers with the intent of introducing herself to the district’s voters.
The second mailer touted endorsements she received from Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri-Huttle, former Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Union County Democratic Vice Chairwoman Colleen Mahr, who is also mayor of Fanwood.
Mandelblatt leads the Democratic field in Fundraising. According to 11-day pre-primary reports filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission, she’s raised $72,900.00 and has $70,365.51 on hand.
Gunderman has raised $10,695.00 and has $8,169.85 in her war chest.
A joint account for the two has brought in $23,666.30 and has $4,819.62 left over.
Combined, those figures trump the $13,083.40 LaZare reported raising over the duration of the race. She has $12,305.80 left in her campaign account.
Those figures reflect where the primary campaign spending was last week and do not include expenditures or fundraising after Memorial Day weekend.
There’s a simple explanation behind Gunderman and Mandelblatt’s decision to hold onto their funds: They think they’ll win.
The two are confident to the point that there haven’t really been conversations about what happens if LaZare wins.
“We’ll adjust. I just don’t see that happening, so I haven’t really spent a whole lot of time thinking about it, but we’ll adjust,” Mandelblatt said when asked how she’d deal with only one member of the team making it through the primary. “The important thing is that we need representation down in Trenton that reflects the values here, so if it’s Stacey, I will support her the same way I supported Tom when it wasn’t me. And I assume if it’s me, Stacey will support me.”
LaZare expects the race to be close enough that it’s decided by vote-by-mail ballots that may not be fully counted until June 7.
The race isn’t expected to break any records in terms of voter turnout, which is generally low with Assembly candidates at the top of the ticket, but Gunderman said she thinks this year’s turnout will exceed that of 2015, the last year where Assembly races were at the top of the ballot.
Though Democrats in Union County, whose residents cast the majority of votes in the Democratic primary, have backed Mandelblatt and Gunderman, it’s possible that low turnout favors LaZare.
Engaged voters in the district are likely familiar with her due to her previous runs at office there.
If that turns out to be the case, LaZare is ready to run alongside whoever else wins a spot on November’s ballot.
“I hope that whoever wins will work as a team going forward,” LaZare said. “There’s no question that I would. Unlike for the primary, where I think it should be single people running — I don’t really understand the concept even of a team in a challenged primary — absolutely, positively going forward, you are much stronger as a team running in the general.”