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At the height of the Watergate scandal, New Jerseyans liked Richard Nixon more than they like Chris Christie.

Wave year elections in New Jersey

By David Wildstein, February 19 2018 11:21 am

Two modern era wave elections happened so long ago that a comparison to New Jersey in 2018 is apples and oranges.  But both are examples of highly-charged mid-term elections that allowed Democrats in the wake of the Watergate scandal to pick up 49 House seats in 1974, and Republicans to gain 54 seats in the Republican Revolution that became a national referendum on President Clinton’s health care reform.

Republicans picked 63 seats nationally in 2010, the mid-term election of President Obama, but seven of the eight Democratic congressmen from New Jersey won re-election.  Only Rep. John Adler, a freshman from a district the Republicans had held for 124 years until he won an open seat.  Adler was defeated by former NFL star Jon Runyan.

Six Republican congressmen that won in 1972 sought re-election in 1974; four of them lost.  Six Democratic congressmen that won in 1992 sought re-election in 1994 and just one of them lost.

The most startling defeat in the Watergate election was Charles Sandman, who won 66% in 1972 and just 41% in 1974 – a 25-point swing.  A former Senate President from Cape May County, Sandman beat a one-term incumbent congressman in 1966.  He defeated Gov. Bill Cahill in the 1973 Republican primary, but just narrowly carried his own congressional district in the general election against Democrat Brendan Byrne.  Sandman served on the House Judiciary Committee, where he defended President Nixon in the nationally-televised impeachment hearings.  In 1974, former Assistant Cape May Prosecutor Bill Hughes beat him easily.

John Hunt defeated Jim Florio by a 53%-47% margin in 1972, but Florio won the 1974 rematch by a 58%-39% margin.  Florio was an Assemblyman from Camden County; Hunt was four-term incumbent who had served as a State Senator and as Gloucester County Sheriff.

Bill Widnall, who had represented Bergen County in Congress for 22 years, lost his seat to Andy Maguire, a former Johnson administration official.  Widnall went from 58% in 1972 to 44% in 1974 – a change of 14-points.

The most seismic shift came in a solidly Republican district that included parts of Morris and Mercer counties and all of Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren counties.  In 1972, Nixon had won this district with 70% of the vote, and Joseph Maraziti, a State Senator from Morris County, won his first congressional election by 13 points against former First Lady Helen Meyner.

As a freshman Congressman, Maraziti won a seat on the House Judiciary Committee, which put him in the national spotlight as a staunch defender of Nixon. He voted against all three articles of impeachment. Meyner decided to run again in 1974.

She was aided by the disclosure that Maraziti put his girlfriend, 35-year-old Linda Collinson, on his congressional payroll in a no-show job — one of the highest salaries on his staff — while she worked at a Whippany law firm. Collinson was outed when she applied for a loan with the House credit union and a staffer who answered the phone in Maraziti’s office said she had never heard of her. Real estate records also listed the house where Collinson lived as owned by Maraziti.

Between Watergate and the secretary scandal, Meyner won 57%-43%.

In 1994, only one Democratic congressman was defeated: freshman Herb Klein in a Passaic/Essex district.  Klein had been an Assemblyman from Clifton in the early 1970’s and won retiring Rep. Bob Roe’s seat in 1992 after self-funding his campaign against State Sen. Joe Bubba.  Bill Martini, a Passaic County Freeholder and former Clifton Councilman, beat Klein by just one percentage point in 1994.

The GOP picked up one other House seat, when ten-term Democrat Bill Hughes retired and was replaced by Republican Assemblyman Frank LoBiondo.

As a tell-sign of how Democratic New Jersey was becoming by the 1990’s, no other incumbent Democrat came close to losing.  Indeed, four of the other five Democrats in the delegation increased their winning percentages in 1994, despite the national trend.

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