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Gov. Brendan Byrne on election night, 1977. (Photo: Center for the American Governor, Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.)

The time five Democratic incumbents lost State Senate primaries

No senators expected to lose June 8 primaries in New Jersey

By David Wildstein, June 07 2021 1:02 pm

The last time a Demcoratic governor was re-elected to a second term, five Democratic state senators were ousted in primaries.

That was in 1977, when the five defeats – added to two Democratic senators losing party support for re-election and running instead as independents – led to a significant turnover in the Senate majority caucus.

Twelve of the 29 Democrats elected to the State Senate in 1973 were not on the general election ballot four years later.  On top of that, three Republican senators did not seek re-election that year.

Jumping ahead 44 years, when Gov. Phil Murphy will seek to become the first Democrat to win a second term as governor since Byrne, Just four of the 37 incumbents in the New Jersey State Senate face primary challenges in Tuesday’s primary election.

None of them – three Democrats and a Republican – are in any deal danger of losing.

In the 1977 primary, which Gov. Brendan Byrne won with 30% of the vote against ten rivals – most of them significant opponents, all five Democrats who lost the primary come with their own stories.

In a Camden-based district, it was no surprise that State Sen. Alene Ammond (D-Cherry Hill), dubbed “The Terror of Trenton,” lost a primary.  She had been feuding with party leaders for just about her entire tenure in the legislature.  At one point, Senate Democrats kicked her out of their caucus and stripped her of senatorial courtesy.

Two-term State Sen. Edward Hughes (D-Cinnaminson) was ousted by Assemblyman Charles Yates (D-Edgewater Park) in a primary contest between two wealthy industrialists. Hughes had fallen out of favor with Burlington County Demcoratic Chairman George Lee and lost by 352 votes.

But that race wasn’t entirely about party politics.  Hughes was a conservative, pro-life Democrat and Yates campaigned as a left-of-center Democrat.

In Middlesex County, State Sen. John Fay (D-Woodbridge) was taken out after he stood with Sheriff Joseph DeMarino in support of independent John Cassidy in the 1975 mayoral election.  DeMarino had lost the Democratic primary to Laurance Weiss by 17 votes.  Weiss ran for Senate and with the backing of the Middlesex Democratic organization, he beat Fay by 2,686 votes.

Two Hudson Senate seats were heavily influenced by the results of the May election for mayor of Jersey City.

Mayor Paul Jordan was challenging Byrne in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and backing Bill Macchi for mayor.   Macchi lost to City Clerk Thomas F.X. Smith by a 54%-26% margin.

The seismic shift in Jersey City politics in May caused Jordan to withdraw as a candidate for governor and led to the defeat of two senators: James Dugan (D-Bayonne), the sitting Democratic State Chairman, in the June primary by Walter Sheil (D-Jersey City); and Joseph Tumulty (D-Jersey City) by former Assemblyman David Friedland (D-Jersey City).

Two other senators – Joseph McGahn (D-Absecon) and Thomas Dunn (D-Elizabeth) – were tossed from their organization lines.  Instead of running in the primary, they unsuccessfully sought re-election as Democrats.

2021 Senate primaries

State Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) is favored to win a second term after a primary challenge from Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle) in the Union County-based 20th district.  A third candidate, Jason Krychiw, dropped out of the race in April after getting caught lying about his resume, but he remains on the ballot.

In a primary directly connected to the Edison mayoral race, State Sen. Patrick Diegnan (D-South Plainfield) and Edison Board of Education Vice President Mohin Patel are facing off in the 18th district.  Patel is allied with mayoral candidate Mahesh Bhagia; both are part of The Edison Eight, a group of local politicians a U.S. Postal Inspector alleges are involved in distributing a racist flyer in 2017.

Senate Republican Budget Officer Steve Oroho (R-Franklin) faces a Republican primary challenge from Dan Cruz, a member of the Andover Regional Board of Education in the heavily-Republican 24th district.

In the 28th, eleven-term State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark) is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Quadir Selby.

Just three incumbents – Republicans Christopher Brown (R-Ventnor) in Atlantic County and Kip Bateman (R-Branchburg) in Somerset, and Democrat Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), the Senate Majority Leader, in Bergen – are retiring.

Democrats are looking to flip the Brown and Bateman seats, with two assemblymen seeking to move up to the Senate.

Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) will face the winner of the Republican primary between the organization candidate, former Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Township) and former Atlantic County Freeholder Seth Grossman.

Grossman won an upset off the line upset in the Republican primary for Congress in 2018, receiving 52.3% of the vote in the municipalities that comprise the 2nd legislative district in a four-candidate field.

For Bateman’s seat, Democrats are running Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), a three-term lawmaker.  He is likely to face Michael Pappas, a former Republican congressman; Pappas faces a primary challenge from Jeffrey Grant.

In the race for Weinberg’s Senate seat, two Assembly incumbents are seeking the Democratic nomination: Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood).

An earlier version of this story flipped Dunn and John Gregorio.  We apologize for the error. 

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