Former Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Township) will get another shot at a career in the legislature after defeating former Atlantic County Freeholder Seth Grossman in Tuesday’s primary.
The Republican contest to succeed State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Ventnor City), who did not seek re-election, was in some ways a microcosm of the growing pains faced by the Republican Party nationally.
Grossman, a controversial candidate who lost organizational support over a series of controversial statements and social media posts during his 2018 congressional bid, ran as a fervently pro-Trump Republican, leaning into cultural issues popularized among Republicans by the former President’s stint in the White House.
He launched attacks over cancel culture and “woke” Democrats and called for a boycott of Coca Cola after the company issued a statement against a set of voting restrictions enacted in Georgia.
Eventually, he moved to target Polistina over public contracts held by the former assemblyman’s engineering firm, charging the party-backed candidate would put his finances above his constituents.
Polistina’s campaign came into the race with advantages. He and his Assembly running mates, former Deputy Attorney General Claire Swift and former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, were awarded the Atlantic County Republican line.
That afforded them a preferential ballot position, while Grossman’s name was relegated to ballot Siberia, with empty columns separating the two candidates. Polistina’s campaign also had a sizeable cash advantage moving into the last month of the race.
Grossman ran on his own, a fact he stressed in the waning days of the race. He said he was running against Polistina alone and would team up with Swift and Guardian for the general election.
The former assemblyman kept his messaging focused on more traditionally Republican issues, and the bulk of his attacks were aimed at Gov. Phil Murphy and the district’s Democratic candidates, Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) and John Armato (D-Buena) and Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick.
The contest promises to be one of November’s most closely watched races. The second district is one of just three in the state with split representation.
Republicans controlled the district for much of the last 40 years, though Democrats held its Senate seat for much of the last decade. Armato won re-election in 2019 by a relatively thin margin, despite both Assemblymen easily winning their seats in 2017.
Brown defeated State Sen. Colin Bell without much trouble that year, winning a seven-point victory.
It remains to be seen how Trump’s absence affects the general election.