Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) will challenge four-term GOP incumbent Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg) for the 16th district State Senate seat, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
The three-term assemblyman has told party leaders of his intention to seek organization lines for a Senate bid in a district that has tilted heavily toward Democrats over the last few years.
The three-term assemblyman has not formally announced his candidacy.
“I am considering it,” Zwicker told the New Jersey Globe.
The other 16th district assemblyman, Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough), is also preparing to seek the Senate seat, four sources confirmed.
Freiman acknowledged his consideration of a Senate run, but said the doubts it would ever get to a point where he and Zwicker face off in a Democratic primary.
“We both have genuine interests. We would never run against each other,” Freiman said. “We’ll figure this out between ourselves.”
Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer has not yet taken sides, but multiple sources say that she wants a Democratic senator from Somerset who would have courtesy over gubernatorial nominations.
The fact that both Zwicker and Freiman are angling for party support sends a clear signal that Democrats view Bateman as vulnerable.
Freiman said that “the important thing is to make sure the seat is represented by someone of our shared values.”
“One of us will run for it, the other will be part of the ticket,” he said. “We’ll support each other regardless.”
Bateman has repeatedly said that he intended to seek re-election next year, but some Republicans say that the veteran legislator could choose to retire if the districts are not redrawn for the 2021 election.
Some Republicans are bullish about Bateman’s chances, especially if former 16th district Assembly candidate Jack Ciattarelli, is the GOP gubernatorial candidate.
The 16th district was redrawn in 2011 to include Democratic strongholds of Princeton and South Brunswick, removing solidly Republican Bridgewater.
Zwicker captured an Assembly seat in 2015, ousting incumbent Donna Simon (R-Readington) by 78 votes in a once-solidly Republican district that became competitive after 2011 redistricting replaced heavily-GOP Bridgewater with the Democratic strongholds of Princeton and South Brunswick.
He passed up a chance to run for the senate in 2017 and was re-elected to a second term in the lower house in a landslide that helped Freiman beat back Simon’s comeback bid by 3,040 votes to capture the second Assembly seat.
Democrats concentrated on the Assembly race four years ago, but Democrat Laurie Poppe came within 574 votes of ousting Bateman, the son of legendary former Senate President and gubernatorial candidate Raymond H. Bateman.
The two Democrats won re-election without a great deal of trouble in 2019. Zwicker ran in first with 27,732 votes, and Freiman got 26,466. Their Republican challengers, former Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire and former Montgomery Mayor Christine Madrid, got about 22,000 votes each.
Former state Ratepayer Advocate Seema Singh said last June that she was considering a Senate bid against Bateman, but her campaign never got off the ground.
The 16th district is one of three districts in the state with split representation and one of only two represented by officials elected from different parties.
State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham) and her Republican running mates were elected to represent the eighth district in 2017, but the senator switched to the Democratic party in January 2019.