Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker and Roy Freiman were re-elected Tuesday, defeating challenges from former Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire and former Montgomery Mayor Christine Madrid.
Zwicker finsihed first with 26,280 votes. Freiman came in a close second with 25,077 votes. Caliguire got 21,606, and Madrid got 21,387.
Headed into 2019, Republicans viewed the 16th district as a top target.
As recently as 2018, the GOP held one Assembly seat there. Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli gave up that seat to run for Governor in 2017.
By all accounts, the race should have been competitive. Ciattarelli was the top vote-getter, though he ran just 534 votes ahead of the last place finisher.
In 2017, the margins grew. Zwicker and Freiman beat Caliguire and former Assemblywoman Donna Simon by about four and three points, respectively.
Still, the district is one of only three in the state with split representation. State Sen. Kip Bateman, a Republican, was re-elected in 2017, and despite demographic trends that favor Democrats, the race should have been winnable for Republicans.
At least, it should have been, but the money fell through, as it did in many of the races in the state where Republicans were hoping to win seats from Democratic incumbents.
Faced with a tough re-election challenge in his own district, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick pulled leadership money away from races where Democrats were on the defensive.
The Republican challengers’ fundraising floundered. On Oct. 7, the Republicans reported having less than $500 banked in their joint account, while Caliguire, the more active of the two challengers, had less than $2,000 on hand.
Democrats had more than $56,000.
On Tuesday morning, Democrats had a 17-point lead in early vote by mail ballots, though those returns are based on party registration and likely do not reflect the vote total with complete accuracy.
Despite any apparent lack of need, Gov. Phil Murphy made numerous visits to the district in the closing days, with both him and First Lady Tammy Murphy appearing alongside the challengers numerous times over the course of four days.
Democrats’ voter registration lead has also grown starker since Zwicker won his first term in 2015. Then, the district had only 5,192 more Democrats than Republicans.
This time, their registration edge is up to 16,293.
Put simply, the 16th was growing bluer, and Republicans didn’t put the resources needed to bring it back to a shade of purple.