2021 Post-Primary Who’s Up and Who’s Down 

Who’s Up?  Grand Winner: “The Establishment” 

Multiple incumbents will be headed into the general election following the primary.  With no Democratic challenger to Governor Phil Murphy, New Jerseyans can expect a relatively familiar cast of characters headed into November on both the left and the right.

Former assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli can run a victory lap after having fended off attacks from Trump disciples “Jersey” Phil Rizzo, self-proclaimed MAGA champion Hirsh Singh, and former Franklin Township mayor Brian Levine.  With all 21 counties having endorsed him, Ciattarelli took almost 50% of the vote, capturing but not dominating the primary field.  The NJGOP can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they still exert respect and influence, despite the populists and legions of “outsiders”.  This primary will have implications on the direction the NJGOP takes as it navigates into the future.

Who’s Down?  Hirsh Singh 

The Linwood candidate could have shattered his image of a failed perennial candidate, but taking the bronze medal in a four-way primary means that Singh is in the political basement with another unsuccessful run on his resume.  Singh had called for Republican voters to join in “the Republican Civil War” and it turned out that it was Jack Ciattarelli sampling General Grant’s famous cigars while the ballot box played his Appomattox Courthouse.  Singh’s campaign was vigorous but also tumultuous, ultimately failing to elbow aside Phil Rizzo who took second.  The 2021 Republican primary was forever marred when Singh’s campaign manager King Penna ambushing Melinda Ciattarelli during a debate, drawing the ire of the state party apparatus.  The further allegations of a fake Trump endorsement being circulated did nothing to improve the Hirsh brand.  With this critical battle in the “Republican Civil War” decided, the state Republican Party will now need to decide how its Reconstruction will proceed.  The Party will either move into a post-Trump mentality behind Ciattarelli, or risk further fracture and political impotence, given the advantage Dems have in registered voters statewide.

Who’s Up?  Gordon Johnson 

See above: the establishment.  Gordon Johnson handily crushed his former assemblymate Valerie Huttle, following a bitter and deeply personal campaign.  District 37’s Democratic field is a scorched Earth much like the Russians torched their fields before Napoleon’s advance, but in the end, the Old Guard won out.  Despite Huttle and Johnson having nearly identical voting records, and despite Huttle weaponizing Dr. Dierdre Paul’s allegations of sexual harassment against Johnson, the people were not buying her message and it showed.

Who’s Down?  BettyLou DeCroce 

The incumbent running without the support of the Morris Republicans, she appears to have lost her seat within just under 500 votes to Christian Barranco.  The five-term DeCroce even had the endorsement of former Governor Richard Codey in a peculiar show of bipartisan support, but Democrat support did her few favors in a primary.  Meanwhile, incumbent Jay Webber, lacking party support in Passaic and Essex, weathered the storm with a solid 34% and will march on to November’s general election.

Who’s Up?  Vince Polistina 

The former assemblyman may once again go to Trenton, this time as a state senator if he can win in the general election and achieve a political resurrection.  Polistina certainly has plenty of steam behind him for his attempt.  Polistina, in a win for the establishment (again, see above) handily crushed MAGA man Seth Grossman.  Readers may remember Grossman as the candidate who snuffed out Hirsh Singh in the 2018 primary leading up to his unsuccessful bid to knock Congressman Jeff Van Drew from his seat.

Who’s Down?  Innovation 

The successful defense of the status quo, overall, means that New Jersey will undoubtedly get more of the same if such results are repeated in the November election.  It may also be a signal that New Jerseyans want some stability going forward from nearly a year and a half of the pandemic and the stressful national political atmosphere.  Nevertheless, in the Garden State, stability is the handmaiden of stagnation since with fresh faces come fresh ideas.  Candidates such as LD24-hopeful Dan Cruz suggested systemic changes to senior school taxation obligations and the introduction of term limits, for example.  These might seem Quixotic in the jaded eyes of New Jersey political wonks, but they nevertheless present the basis for discussions.  From discussions based outside the standard operating procedures of well-entrenched political figures come the seeds of actual change.  When New Jerseyans voted 2:1 to legalize marijuana, political red meat was laid on the table—easy pickings—but Ciattarelli had solidly voted against marijuana legislation when he was in office and was not going to revaluate those positions.  So uncomfortable with it is he that he said, should he win, if the endeavor was a “failure,” he would have the people decide whether or not to repeal the legalization with another referendum.  This smacks of an example across the Atlantic, with the intellectual desert that is the Scottish National Party’s “vote until you get it right” mentality respecting independence referenda.  Singh, who had no state legislative record to justify on the matter, was more in line with the majority of New Jersey voters, suggesting that weed be regulated like alcohol and put the proceeds toward police pensions.  It was a creative proposal, a synthesis of free-market solution-based thinking with law and order political appeal, but it went up in smoke with his campaign.  Nevertheless, November is ahead, and other candidates are free to pick up and run with some of the ideas of the vanquished that carry more cross-party-appeal if they are able to get out of their own way.

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