Last year, in the wake of Gov. Phil Murphy’s surprisingly tight re-election victory against Jack Ciattarelli, Republicans sensed an opportunity in the 4th legislative district.
The Gloucester and Camden County-based district wasn’t expected to be competitive, but Murphy only carried it by two points, and its Democratic incumbents – State Sen. Fred Madden (D-Washington), Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Washington), and Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester Township) – all had much tighter margins of victory than in previous cycles.
Now, with the Legislative Apportionment Commission ready to vote on a final compromise map, Republicans are pouncing. The newly drawn 4th district, which is identical to the proposal Republicans released last week, would lose Democratic strongholds like Lindenwold and take on Republican towns like Waterford instead, flipping the district from Murphy +2 to Ciattarelli +6.
Under these new lines, Democratic Senate candidates last year would have combined for 50.6% of the vote to 49.4% for Republicans – a margin of just about a thousand votes. In a slightly worse cycle for Democrats, or in a cycle where Republicans actually invested in their candidates, that narrow margin could easily be swamped.
Madden has been on retirement watch for many cycles in a row, and the unfavorable lines may be what finally pushes him to depart from the legislature. He first arrived in the Senate in 2004 by very narrowly defeating incumbent State Sen. George Geist (R-Gloucester Township), and has won by solid margins in every cycle since.
Neither Moriarty nor Mosquera is an obvious replacement. South Jersey Democrats aren’t especially enthusiastic about Moriarty moving up to the Senate, and Mosquera’s home in Camden County clashes with the belief that the 4th district is a Gloucester County seat (even though Camden makes up more than half of the district, including all of its most Democratic areas).
The reshaped district could have statewide implications as well. If a Republican from Camden County flips the district’s Senate seat, Republicans would gain senatorial courtesy across all of Camden County.
That would mean Democratic governors would have to contend with a Republican senator in one of the state’s most reliably Democratic areas, and it would also be a major blow to the power base of South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, who has exerted massive influence over Camden County politics for decades.
It’s hard to find an upside for South Jersey Democrats on the legislative map overall. The 4th district is made more Republican, but two adjoining districts, the 3rd and the 8th, don’t get any more Democratic in return. (The Atlantic County-based 2nd district does grow slightly bluer, but that was likely inevitable regardless of what happened in the 4th district.)
Just a few years ago, Steve Sweeney was the President of the Senate, and Democrats held a whopping seven of the eight South Jersey Senate seats, not including those in Ocean County. That number is now down to four – and assuming the deal map is successful, it could still drop even further.