Home>Campaigns>To keep the 16th district in Democratic hands, Zwicker and Freiman pick Savargaonkar to manage re-election bid

Om Savargaonkar. (Photo: Om Savargaonkar).

To keep the 16th district in Democratic hands, Zwicker and Freiman pick Savargaonkar to manage re-election bid

Molly Murphy will serve as finance director for incumbents, and probably Mitchelle Drulis

By David Wildstein, February 08 2023 6:47 am

Om Savargaonkar, a rising star among New Jersey Democratic operatives, has been tapped to manage the campaign to hold on to three seats in a Central Jersey district that is one of the most politically competitive in the state.

Savargaonkar will lead the re-election bids of State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) and Assembly Agriculture and Food Security Committee Chairman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) in the 16th district, which includes parts of Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon, and Somerset counties.

He’s also tasked with holding the open seat of Sadaf Jaffer (D-Montgomery), a freshman assemblywoman who declined to seek re-election.  Mitchelle Drulis, who served as district director to Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) from 2019 until last month, has emerged as the likely candidate to replace Jaffer.

Also joining the 16th district campaign team as finance director is Molly Murphy.  She was the deputy finance director for Gov. Phil Murphy’s re-election campaign in 2021 and the national finance director for U.S. Senator Patty Murray in 2022.  She is a veteran of the Biden for President finance team in 2020.

Om is no stranger to the 16th District. – He led one of the largest field efforts in the state during the 2021 cycle and has demonstrated his ability to win tough races, both in New Jersey and across the country,” Zwicker and Freiman said in a joint statement.  “As our Finance Director, Molly will allow us to combine grassroots and traditional fundraising strategies to ensure that we have the resources we need to communicate with voters across the district.  We cannot be more excited to get this campaign underway with both Om and Molly at the helm.”

This cycle will also reunite Savargaonkar and Drulis, who worked together in 2018 when he was a field organizer for Malinowski’s 2018 congressional run against five-term incumbent Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) in New Jersey’s 7th district.  He was the deputy field director for Malinowski’s close but successful re-election bid in 2020 against Republican Tom Kean, Jr.

In 2021, Savargaonkar managed Sam Joshi’s 2-1 victory in the Edison mayoral primary against embattled Democratic municipal chairman Mahesh Bhagia.

In the general election, he served as field director for the Zwicker, Freiman, and Jaffer slate.  That year, Zwicker flipped the Senate seat of retiring Republican Kip Bateman (R-Branchburg) to become the first Democratic senator representing that district since 1903.

He spent the 2022 midterm cycle as field director for the re-election campaign of Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat who won a third term with 51.7% of the vote in a district that had been Republican for eighteen years until she ousted an incumbent in 2018.  Slotkin, now a potential candidate for U.S. Senate, amassed the fifth-largest turnout in the nation last year.

“I am extremely excited for the opportunity to come back to my home district and build on the work we have done to elect representatives who ensure the voices of 16th district families are heard in Trenton,” said Savargaonkar, a 24-year-old Hillsborough resident.  “Senator Zwicker and Assemblyman Freiman have made history every cycle since they were elected, and I am proud to be leading this incredible team to victory in November.”

The 16th district, through its Somerset County core, was solidly Republican for more than a century until redistricting in 2011 removed Republican bastions like Bridgewater and replaced them with Princeton and South Brunswick, both Democratic strongholds.  The GOP held on for two more elections until Zwicker unseated Republican Assemblywoman Donna Simon (R-Readington) by just 78 votes out of more than 65,000 cast in 2015.

In 2017, after Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Hillsborough) gave up his seat to run for governor, Freiman flipped the seat from red to blue.  Bateman held on, albeit narrowly, defeating Democrat Laurie Poppe by just 574 votes.

Zwicker faces a rematch with Michael Pappas (R-Branchburg), who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 1999.  Two years ago, Zwicker defeated Pappas by 5,205 votes, 53%-47%, as the only Democrat to flip a Republican seat that year.

For the Assembly, Republicans are expected to run Clinton Councilman Ross Traphagen and Montgomery GOP municipal chair Rosy Thakkar.

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