In November, Republicans hope to put a few dents into the Democratic super-majority in the chamber, and one of the places that they are putting an effort into flipping in the 16th legislative district currently represented by two Democrats in the State Assembly, despite a Republican State Senator.
Albeit some close calls, the Somerset County-based district was solid Republican enough to survive the Watergate years – but not the GOP base was diluted in 2011 when redistricting dropped some GOP areas like Bridgewater and replaced them with Princeton and South Brunswick.
Democrat Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) ousted incumbent Donna Simon (R-White House Station) in 2015 by 78 votes. All four candidates were within 550 votes of each other.
When Jack Ciattarelli left in 2017 to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Democrat Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) won the seat by 3,040 votes.
Zwicker and Freiman beat Simon and Mark Caliguire in 2017 with a combined 53.2% of the vote, winning by a 6.5% margin.
Now Zwicker and Freiman face a rematch with Caliguire and his running mate, former Montgomery Mayor Christine Madrid.
Hillary Clinton carried the 16th by a margin of 14.94% over Donald Trump, winning by 15,550 votes in the 2016 presidential election.
While all three most recent statewide Democrats carried this district, Clinton carried it by the largest margin of the three, in part due to an over 20% victory in the combined vote share in the municipalities of Raritan Township, Princeton, South Brunswick, and Hillsborough Township, which accounted for 60% of the votes cast in this district in 2016.
Clinton also carried the remaining 40% of the vote by a narrow 1.3% margin over Donald Trump. Clinton carried the municipality of Hillsborough, one of the largest municipalities in the district, something that neither Phil Murphy, nor Bob Menendez could repeat. This was the only municipality in the district that did not vote for the same party in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
In the 2017 race for governor, Phil Murphy carried the 16th by a margin of 6.24% over Kim Guadagno, winning by 4,006 votes.
However, Murphy won by the lowest margin out of the three most recent statewide Democrats, in part to a smaller victory margin in the combined vote shares of Raritan, Princeton, South Brunswick, and Hillsborough, then Clinton or U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, carrying these four towns, which counted for 60% of the districts vote, by 17%. Murphy also lost the remaining 40% of the vote by a margin of 9.75%, which was not enough for him to lose the district, but enough to make it closer than it was for Clinton or Menendez.
In the 2018 U.S. Senate race, Menendez carried the 16th by a margin of 8.8% over Bob Hugin, winning by 8,004 votes.
Menendez had a respectable performance in this district, not winning it with a huge margin like Clinton, but still winning by 2% more than Phil Murphy or the 2017 Assembly Democrats. Menendez won the combined vote shares of Raritan, Princeton, South Brunswick, and Hillsborough, which again counted for 60% of the districts vote total, by 17.6%, only slightly larger than Phil Murphy’s margin. However, Menendez only lost the remaining 40% of the vote by 4.4%, improving nearly 6% on Murphy’s performance in these municipalities.
This district has a large part of its population concentrated in four municipalities, and for anyone to win this district, they are going to have to carry that share of the vote while not neglecting the remaining 40% of the vote that’s spread out in the rest of the district. The path to victory for Republicans in this district is steep, ¾ of the most populous municipalities lean democratic, three of which were won by Hillary Clinton by over 30%. The GOP is going to have to hope that they can win the more urban populated areas, or at least come very close, and win the smaller towns by a wide margin, neither of which has happened in the past three election years.