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A stunning victory for Michael Testa, Jr. in a special election for State Senate in the 1st district against incumbent Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle) came largely because Testa was able to hold his loss down to just 396 votes in the most Democratic town in the district, Vineland.
It’s also Testa’s hometown.
To put the power of Testa’s local strength into some perspective, he won 48% of the vote in a town where Donald Trump received 42%.
Testa won Millville by 9, while Andrzejczak carried it by 803 in 2015.
That helped Testa win Cumberland by 519 votes.
With Van Drew gone, Cape May County was able to return to his Republican leanings.
Testa won the county by 2,673 votes, 54%-45%.
He also won Corbin City, Estell Manor and Weymouth, giving him a 335-vote plurality out of the tiny portion of the district in Atlantic County.
In all, Testa won by 3,527 votes, 53,5%-46.5%.
Testa was able to successfully tie Andrzejczak, a right-of-center Democrat, to Gov. Phil Murphy and the national Democrats. One Democratic poll showed Murphy upside-down by 27 points.
In a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats that was carried by Trump in 2016, the localization of national issues – like immigration – proved successful.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. played a major role in Testa’s win, as did Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt.
Both made numerous trips to the district and played an integral part in Testa’s ability to raise enough money to remain competitive against an onslaught of money from Senate President Steve Sweeney and the South Jersey Democrats.
The Senate seat now returns to Republican hands, where it was from 1973 until Democrat Jeff Van Drew wrested it from Republican incumbent Nicholas Asselta in 2007.
Van Drew gave up the Senate seat in January to take his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and was succeeded by Andrzejczak.
Andrzejczak, who lost his leg while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, was handpicked by Van Drew to run for Assembly in 2013 and for the Senate this year.
The Van Drew Team had some magic over the last decade in the Republican-leaning district, with the Democrats losing once, in 2013. They won it back two years later.
But with Van Drew in Washington, the team strategy didn’t work this year.
Last week, Van Drew was one of two House Democrats to oppose the opening of an impeachment inquiry on Trump.
In a district where 40% of Democrats voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016, Van Drew’s vote hardly excited the Democratic base.
Andrzejczak also wasn’t helped by his public willingness to consider voting for Trump next year.
He wasn’t going to out-Trump Testa, who had been named chairman of the president’s re-election campaign in New Jersey.
Like Van Drew, Testa had coattails. Incumbents Bruce Land and Matthew Milam – handpicked by Van Drew – lost their seats to Lower Township Mayor Erik Simonsen and Ocean City Councilman Antwan McClellan.
McClellan will become the first African American Republican to serve in the Legislature since Tom Smith died in 2002.