LONG BRANCH – The 11th District in Monmouth County was supposed to be competitive, but it wasn’t.
Democrats easily swept the district, “flipping” two Assembly seats and reelecting state Sen. Vin Gopal. And he knew why:
“That culture war message fell flat. People were like, ‘we don’t want this garbage anymore.'”
Gopal was one of the big winners statewide on Tuesday, getting about 60 percent of the vote in what has been traditionally a Republican county.
Phil Murphy was another winner. Democrats lost no seats in the Senate and will likely gain five seats in the Assembly.
“It feels like a hell of a night,” the governor said as he moved through the crowd of supporters at Gopel’s election night party at Le Club Avenue, a chic restaurant on the Boardwalk.
Winning and losing is not only for candidates, issues count too.
And in that vein, a big loser was the “Parents’ Rights” crusade, which is precisely what Gopal was referring to when he mentioned the culture wars.
Republicans were emboldened all summer and fall, convinced that conservative criticism of public education – everything from books to curriculum to dealing with gay students – gave them a winning hand.
This view was so prevalent, Republicans dreamed about winning control of the Legislature, or at least, one house.
I recall an Assembly candidate in LD-38, Bergen County, saying that parents’ rights were an issue Dems were presenting to Republicans on the proverbial silver platter.
It was common to hear GOP leaders speak of “momentum,” “fired up” voters and being on the “offensive.”
However, as the results suggested, concern that public schools in New Jersey are too “liberal,” too “woke” and too preoccupied with gender was a view confined to staunch conservatives, not the general voter.
It’s true that “parents’ rights” candidates certainly won some school board seats across the state. That’s important to the cause at hand, but the Republican aim was to use that issue to challenge the “radicals” in Trenton and make gains in the Legislature. It did not happen.
To more fully grasp why it did not happen, we must turn to abortion.
Talk about a winning issue for Democrats – not only in New Jersey, but all over the land.
The problem is obvious. Republicans oppose abortion rights, but the majority of voters do not.
Clearly, Democratic talk of the GOP trying to limit abortion rights if they gained Legislative control resonated with voters – more so than the books kids read in schools.
So, the following statement from Jackie Cornell of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey was no surprise:
“Abortion was on the ballot, and voters understood the stakes. Across New Jersey, voters resoundingly sent a message: protect our reproductive freedom.”
In that vein, the big loser statewide was Ed Durr, or Ed “the Trucker.”
A conservative hero when he won his LD-3 Senate seat in 2021, Durr lost reelection to Democrat John Burzichelli.
Reproductive rights were a big reason why. Democrats seized on offensive social media posts Durr made three years ago about women and abortion. That effort even included a TV ad featuring Loretta Weinberg, the retired state Senator from Bergen County. Weinberg has to be feeling pretty good today – like a winner.
The challenge for Republicans is that this issue is not going away. But the party seems to be trapped, given the fact its base is pro-life.
This brings us to Bob Hugin, the state Republican chair, whose position has to be considered tenuous.
Hugin sent out a message highlighting Republican wins in certain municipalities around the state, among them Bridgewater, Old Bridge, Summit, Westfield, Paramus and Caldwell.
All well and good, but that really wasn’t the point. The premise of this election was that Murphy is unpopular and Republicans have a chance to make gains.
In his message, Hugin gamely maintained that Republicans are “right on the issues.”
That’s going to be hard for many people – even Republicans – to swallow.
You can expect the MAGA-wing of the state Republican Party to start calling for Hugin’s resignation. Probably happening already.