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State Sen. Dawn Addiego. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

South Jersey Dems rally around Addiego re-election fundraiser

State Senator prepares to run next year, for the first time as a Democrat

By David Wildstein, September 18 2020 9:29 am

State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham), who switched parties in early 2019 after almost three decades as Republican officeholder, is taking steps to run for re-election to the Senate seat she’s held since 2010 and she’s doing it with the support of the South Jersey Democratic machine.

All of her South Jersey legislative colleagues —  Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and the other fifteen Democrats in the South Jersey delegation – are coming together to headline a $1,000-per-person fundraiser for Addiego next month in a town called Blue Anchor, New Jersey.

When Addiego switched parties, there was immediately some talk of a primary from the left against someone with a long record as a Republican in the New Jersey Legislature.  That talk has mostly dissipated, and there is every indication that she’ll have the enthusiastic backing of the South Jersey Democratic organization next year.

If she runs, Addiego might face some historical hurdles: the last time a Democrat won the 8th legislative district was in 1973, when John Sweeney narrowly edged out a freshman GOP assemblyman in the Watergate landslide.  Republicans won the other 8th district Assembly seat and the Senate seat.  Sweeney lost to Jim Saxton in 1975; he later chief counsel to Gov. Jim Florio and a Superior Court Judge.

Only the 40th district has gone longer than the 8th without electing a Democrat to the legislature.  Even Sussex and Warren counties elected Democratic Assemblymen in 1973.

While Republicans have held the 8th, it has become more politically competitive in recent years.

Republicans almost lost the district in 2017, even though Democrats didn’t actively contest the seats.

Howarth was seeking re-election to a second term on a ticket with Peters, a Burlington County freeholder who entered the race after the primary when incumbent Maria Rodriguez-Gregg dropped out of the race.

Democrats ran former Burlington County freeholder Joanne Schwartz and Mary Ann Merlino, a former mayor of Republican-leaning Waterford.

Howarth finished 645 votes ahead of Merlino and Peters won his seat by just 350 votes over Schwartz.  Howarth ran 170 votes ahead of Peters.

In the race for State Senate, Addiego defeated George Youngkin by 2,637 votes, 52%-48%.

There may have been some coattails involved: Phil Murphy won the 8th with 52%, a 1,496 vote plurality.

Democrats made a big play for the two 8th district Assembly seat sin 2019.  Peters sought re-election and Republicans dumped Howarth, who got caught offering to switch parties – Democrats didn’t want him – and lost the GOP primary to popular former Sheriff Jean Stanfield.

Stanfield ran 1,155 votes ahead of LaPlaca and 1,958 ahead of Natale.

The 8th now has 9,265 more Democrats than Republicans.  That’s up from 4,184 when the district lines were drawn in 2011.

In 2018, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez carried the 8th with 51%, a 1,767 votes margin.  Democratic congressional candidates combined to carry the district by 7,270 votes (54%).  In races for freeholder of the Atlantic, Burlington and Camden towns in the 8th district, Republicans won 50.6% of the vote.

The district backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 2,532 votes (51%-49%) and gave Barack Obama a 7,715 vote plurality (54%-46%) against Mitt Romney in 2012.

If Addiego wins re-election as a Democrat in 2021, she would be the first party switcher to hold a seat in the New Jersey Legislature since the current State Constitution was adopted in 1947.

She would also be the first sitting legislator to switch parties without having first lost party support for re-election.

Raymond Zane switched from Democrat to Republican in 2001 after losing party support for re-election to the seat he had held with little electoral trouble since 1973.  He lost his bid for re-election to a 9th term by 1,735 votes, 51.5%-47.5%, against Gloucester County Freeholder Steve Sweeney.

Other party switchers:

* Angela Perun was a two-term assemblywoman from Plainfield who switched parties after Middlesex County Democrats dropped her from their organization line and replaced her with Piscataway Mayor (now state senator) Bob Smith.  Boosted by Gov. Tom Kean’s landslide re-election, Perun came within 442 votes of beating Smith in 1985.

* Jorge Rod, a two-term Republican from Ocean County, lost the backing of the county GOP organization in 1985.  He switched parties and sought re-election as a Democrat but lost to Jeff Moran by 15,561 votes.

* Matthew Ahearn ousted longtime Republican Assemblyman Nicholas Felice (R-Fair Lawn) by 667 votes in 2001 but lost the backing of Bergen County Democratic chairman Joseph Ferriero for a second term.  He switched to the Green Party and won just 5% of the vote in 2003.

* Rafael Fraguela, then a Union City commissioner, won a State Assembly seat on a ticket with Albio Sires (D-West New York) in 2001.   The incumbent, Rudy Garcia, had been taken out as Union City mayor the year before and was then stripped of party support in his bid to keep his Assembly seat; Fraguela had sided with Bob Menendez, Brian Stack and Donald Scarinci in the Union City battle.  After a falling out with the Union City Democratic leadership, Stack replaced Fraguela as Speaker Sires’ running mate.

Fraguela switched parties and ran for State Senate against incumbent Bernard Kenny (D-Hoboken).  He won just 19% of the vote.

* Arline Friscia was elected to the Assembly as a Democrat in 1995; she and John Wisniewski ousted two-term Republican incumbents Stephen Mikulak (R-Woodbridge) and Ernest Oros (R-Woodbridge) by more than 5,000 votes.  Middlesex Count Democrats dumped Friscia from their line in 2003 to make room for Perth Amboy mayor Joe Vas.  Vas beat Friscia in the Democratic primary by 735 votes.

Friscia switched parties in August.  Republican Assembly candidate Robert Mauro withdrew from the race and Friscia became the GOP nominee.  Democrats went to court and challenged her right to run as a Republican after losing the Democratic primary, but a Superior Court judge ruled that she could.  That led to the eventual passage of a sore-loser law.

In the general, Vas defeated Friscia by 3,197 votes.

* Francis Bodine, a 71-year-old seven-term assemblyman, lost the support of the Burlington County Republican organization for re-election in 2007.  He switched parties and became the Democratic candidate for State Senate, winning 39% against Republican Phil Haines.

Other legislators switched parties after an interruption in their legislative careers.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley) was a Republican assemblyman from Newark from 1968 to 1972.  He later became a Democrat and won a seat on the Essex County Board of Freeholders in 2002.  He returned to the Assembly as a Democrat in 2007.

Assemblyman Anthony Imperiale was elected to the Assembly as an independent in 1971 and to the State Senate as an independent in 1973.  He lost re-election in 1977 and returned to the Legislature as a Republican assemblyman in 1979.

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