Republicans are hoping for a win in Burlington County after three election cycles that saw the 5-0 majority they held on the freeholder board melt into complete Democratic control.
Institutionally, they’re at a disadvantage. As of the start of October, the county had 47,878 more Democrats than Republicans. The registration advantage is nothing new. Democrats had a 35,666-voter registration edge in 2016, when the GOP last won a countywide race in Burlington.
“I think we all acknowledge it’s an uphill battle considering the year that we’re in, but our candidates have been working hard and have been out there much more than the Democratic candidates have been,” Burlington County Republican Chairman Sean Earlen said.
But now, Democratic County Commissioners Balvir Singh and Tom Pullion are defending their seats for the first time, facing challenges from former Eastampton Councilman John Adams and former Moorestown School Board member Tinamarie Nicolo.
But despite President Donald Trump being on the ballot in an increasingly-Democratic Burlington County that has consistently bucked the Republican party during the first three years of his administration, Democrats aren’t celebrating anything yet.
“I think it’s going to be a historic vote, and I don’t want to sound overconfident on it,” Democratic County Chairman Joe Andl said. “I think it looks good for Democrats all around in the state of New Jersey with that type of turnout, but I’m not going to get overconfident because you never until the votes are opened and counted.”
That’s partly due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.
The landscape, not to mention the way campaigns are run, has shifted as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and a mostly-mail election has necessitated some changes to Democrats’ ground game.
“This year was a lot different type of campaign,” Andl said. “With the COVID, it was basically doing more mail outreach and voter education. There was a lot more voter education and GOTV efforts done earlier as opposed to later.”
The Republicans saw their opponents’ strategy shifts in a less favorable light.
The two Democratic incumbents, they said, were nowhere to be seen.
“Pullion and Singh are not out in the bushes. they’re not pounding the pavement,” Earlen said. “They’ve done little to nothing in terms of campaigning, and as a resident of Burlington County and as the Republican chairman, it’s embarrassing and quite upsetting that they’ve taken advantage of what they hope are national coattails to try to win this thing without actually working to talk to constituents of Burlington County.”
It’s not clear how high, exactly, this year’s voter turnout will be, but early mail-in ballot returns point to it being high, perhaps even higher than what was seen in 2016.
As of Wednesday morning, nearly 2.8 million New Jerseyans — about 44% of the electorate — had already cast their votes. As of Tuesday morning, about 160,000 voters in Burlington had done the same, making the county’s turnout about 47% with a week remaining before the close of polls.
Democrats see that as a boon delivered to them by former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee.
“I think the top of the race drives the turnout. I think the Biden race and the Andy Kim race certainly help with the turnout and getting this huge, historic vote that we’re going to have to the polls,” he said. “It certainly helps the bottom of the ticket. Though we always see a drop between the top to the bottom, the top being strong and working hard always helps us.”
There’s been little polling in the third congressional district, where Rep. Andy Kim (D-Marlton) is defending a challenge from former Hill International CEO David Richter in a bid for a second term, so there’s no clear indication of Trump’s popularity in Burlington apart from results in past years.
Though Earlen said national politics have done little to help his party over the preceding three years, he was bullish on Trump’s chances in the district.
“I think the general feeling is he’s going to perform better than he did in 2016,” he said. “Whether or not that has enough to give us enough coattails down ballot, that’s to be seen”