Some labor unions with close ties to South Jersey Democrats are sending some late campaign contributions to Assemblyman Joe Howarth (R-Evesham) as he wages an uphill battle to win a Republican primary without organizational support in the 8th district.
Howarth recently received $8,200 from the Iron Worker’s Local #399, which is Senate President Steve Sweeney’s union, and $8,200 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 351, which was run by Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) before his election to Congress.
The two-term assemblyman also took in $8,200 from the Operating Engineers Local 825, $1,000 from IBEW Local 269, and $500 from Laborers Local 172. The Operating Engineers also contributed $8,200 to Peters.
Democratic sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, suggested that they prefer to face Howarth in the general election. The 8th district is a top target for Democrats as they seek to expand their majority in the Assembly.
Howarth has moved solidly to the right in a bid to win off the line, running literally as a MAGA Republican in a district where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by two percentage points.
Democrats think Howarth’s recent conversion to Trump supporter would help them in seats in November.
Republican organizations in Burlington, Atlantic and Camden counties withdrew part support for Howarth in February after suspecting that he conspired to switch parties along with State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham) earlier in the year.
To replace him, Republicans scored a candidate recruitment coup when six-term Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield said she won run for the Assembly on a ticket with incumbent Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport).
Peters and Howarth are no longer speaking, but they weren’t exactly buddies even before the party-switch brouhaha occurred. It was one of many toxic relationships that exist between running mates who share dual-member districts in the New Jersey State Assembly.
The conventional wisdom is that Stanfield, one of the county’s most popular vote-getters, will finish first in the GOP primary. That pits Peters and Howarth against each other for the second seat.
Peters is widely viewed as a rising star in New Jersey GOP politics, with party leaders openly discussing the Navy SEAL as a potential candidate for Congress or Governor. He is the heavy favorite to win the Republican primary.
Howarth has not hesitated to criticize Stanfield, unfairly attacking her for not complying with a request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold an immigrant in the country illegally. As a local law enforcement official, Stanfield’s had little control over the matter.
A fourth Republican candidate, Jason Huf, reported raising just $2,707 – 92% of that from a personal loan — and had just $201 remaining for the final days of his campaign.
The 8th is arguably one of the most politically competitive legislative districts in the state. district now has 6,772 more Democrats than Republicans. That’s up from 4,184 when the district lines were drawn in 2011.
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, incumbent Dawn Addiego (R-Evesham) 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.
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.
Democrats have not won the 8th since 1973, when John Sweeney ousted Republican assemblyman Kenneth Wilkie in the Watergate landslide of that year. Two other Republican incumbents, State Sen. Barry Parker and Assemblyman Clifford Snedeker still won.
Sweeney was unseated in 1975 by Bordentown mayor Jim Saxton, who went on to serve in the State Senate and, from 1985 to 2009, in the U.S. House of Representatives.