Tuesday night’s election reminded the state that Republicans have a pulse, especially in South Jersey with the LD1 win of Senator-elect Michael Testa and in LD8, where a win by Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-8) puts state senator Dawn Addiego (D-8) directly in harm’s way in 2021.
Peters wants revenge on Addiego, who changed parties, giving South Jersey Democrats another seat in the caucus room, presumably to make up in part for expectations of state Senator Bob Andrzejczak (D-1) going down.
Redistricting will play a role, of course, but as it stands, based on Tuesday, she’s vulnerable, especially with Democrats split between an establishment defined in no small part by South Jersey and Governor Phil Murphy. Her vulnerability (or, if she does not run for reelection, as a source suggested, the vulnerability of a Democratic replcaement) shakes the empire in South Jersey. On Tuesday night, Democrats in battleground districts mostly found themselves defined as “Murphy Democrats”. The assocoation had to burn Andrzejczak in particular, whose funding derived from that wing of the Democratic Party brutally at odds with Murphy.
In these circumstances, with Democrats pushing and shoving in their own increasingly irritable bowel inducing squabble, who will lead the GOP is a continuing question, intensified in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election.
Republican State Party Chairman Doug Steinhardt appears poised to get in the race, and has a story to tell about the GOP picking off a senate seat on his watch.
Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16) is already in the race, and maintained a schedule in the days leading up to Election Day that rivaled that of Steinhardt.
Ciattarelli ran for governor in 2017 and made some enemies in the Chris Christie wing of the GOP establishment by running against Christie’s record (his opponent, after all, was Christie LG Kim Guadagno).
If Steinhardt were to run, he would presumably have behind him those players opposed to the notion of Ciattarelli gaining traction with the runway of his own Christie record. A Somerset County guy, who partied with his county allies on Tuesday night not far from where Murphy put his celebration on hold pending the results of the freeholder contest, Ciattarelli has also made multiple statements in opposition to President Donald J. Trump, while Steinhardt has been the state’s leading Trump apologist.
Other potential candidates who will vie for pieces of the establishment in a fractured party:
Monmouth County GOP Chairman (and Sheriff) Shaun Golden;
and Pharmaceutical magnate Bob Hugin, who lost by double digits to incumbent Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in 2018.
Hugin’s loss to a far less than prime time Menendez last year augmented Democrats’ sense of impunity in this state, newly checked on Tuesday night by a resurgent GOP and the emergence of genuine GOP stars, most notably Testa.
The least sophisticated analysis of LD1 will lean heavily on Trump’s success in the district and the president’s willingness late in the game to get involved. He was a factor. Certainly Andrzejczak’s decision to leave the door open on voting for the Republican may have contributed to alienating the Democrats from a portion of his base. Testa, moreover, was unequivocal in his support for the president, who continues to be unpopular in other parts of the state.
But critical too to the Republican’s victory – and there are certainly a dozen factors combined that go into, including a badly misfired General Majority PAC mail campaign, and relationships the Testa family built over generations, including – critically – in the candidate’s home town of Vineland – was his attention to detail on key LD1 issues.
Testa did not merely run as the Trump guy, or as the anti-Murphy guy, or anti-machine guy.
He emphasized all those things.
But at the heart of it, he ran on issues crticial to the voters on the ground in LD1, including Highway 55 extension, shoring up and protecting the bayside in southern Cumberland County, and improving the local economy.
That focus, and his authentic presence in the district, as a local kid made good who lifeguarded as a kid in Wildwood and bartended before he passed the Bar, added up to a good and organic fit, undergirding his charisma and genuine starpower in the eyes of Republicans around the state craving a leader.
Against that backdrop, and recognizing that Democrats still vastly outnumber Republicans in this state, and that district to district is one thing while statewide is something else, please consider the following (just for fun) InsiderNJ Poll Question:
- Bob Andrzejczak
- Bob Hugin
- Bob Menendez
- Chris Christie
- Cumberland County
- Dawn Marie Addiego
- Donald Trump
- Doug Steinhardt
- General Majority PAC
- governor 2021
- Jack Ciattarelli
- Kim Guadagno
- Mike Testa
- Monmouth County GOP
- NJ Democrats
- Phil Murphy
- Shaun Golden
- Steve Sweeney
Click here for the full Insider Index