InsiderNJ’s Who’s Up and Who’s Down: Tuesday Aftermath Edition

Steinhardt
Coughlin, in gear.
Coughlin, in gear, in Atlantic City, shortly before he headed south to pick green peppers with incumbent Democrats in Cape May.

WHO’S UP

Mike Testa

Don’t lose sight of a victory by the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee (DACC) and Michael Muller and his team (and Speaker Craig Coughlin, picturd above, left), which Tuesday went after super majority seats and still maintained its grip on the core of the empire (although the results bear cracks in South Jersey). After all the drama, the GOP gained just a single seat in the Senate to make the Dems’ advantage 25-15; and two seats in the Assembly, to give Dems a 52-28 edge. That said, LD2 was unresolved, with the county chairman predicting a Dems’ victory following considerable hand wringing. A loss there too by the incumbents would significantly enhance the GOP’s night. But Testa’s win had symbolic implications. In the Shenandoah Valley of South Jersey, the Senator-elect from Vineland poked his thumb in the eye of the Democratic Party Machine with his impressive 1st District victory Tuesday night. Testa ran a strong campaign through some rough weather, as when President Donald J. Trump tweeted a thank you at U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-2) for his statements in opposition to impeachment.  He didn’t lose his poise through the blizzard of negative mail dumped on him and his running mates by the George Norcross III-connected General Majority PAC, and refused to stop believing in himself, his running mates, and the essentially red district he won. In the words of one humbled Democrat, “Testa will be a formidable force.”

Antwan McClellan

The target of a racist mail piece issued by the General Majority PAC, the Ocean City Councilman – a churchgoing man and community programs coordinator – stared down the Democrats at the side of Testa and Lower Twp. Mayor Erik Simonsen to become – on Jan 1st of next year – the only African American Assemblyman in the Legislature. This was a big win for McClellan, who consistently told InsiderNJ that the big money negative attacks were backfiring along the shore. He was also unafraid to go directly after Senator Bob Andrzejczak when the subject arose at the League of Women voters debate.

Ryan Peters 

The Navy SEAL shook off the turmoil of having his running mate change parties, a bitter primary, and a

Jean Stanfield
Jean Stanfield

ridiculous MAGA candidate in the race, not to mention – like Testa (above) the scorched earth General Majority PAC, to run a gutsy, tenacious and spiritually grounded reelection campaign. The win catapults the public service-minded Peters to new heights as a Republican player in New Jersey – a naturally strongly positioned 2021 state senate candidate. Also critical was the performance by his running mate, top vote-getter retired Sheriff Jean Stanfield, whose steady, veteran presence on the ticket helped propel the Republican ticket to victory. Many argued, in fact, that Stanfield was the critical factor in fireman carrying the organization-fragged Peters out of no man’s land.

Doug Steinhardt

The chairman of the Republican Party picked up a senate seat (yes, the GOP goes from 14 to just 15 members in the 40-member senate). But it was a clean LD1 win in a Republican district dominated by Democrat Jeff Van Drew going back to 2007. The GOP also gained a pair of assembly seats. LD2 was hanging by a thread and could go to the GOP. And the minority leader (Jon Bramnick) and his running mate hung on with wins in Battleground 21. Steinhardt’s critics would say he was running against the socially media-hyperkinetic Jack Ciattarelli, who was also on the campaign trail as a 2021 gubernatorial candidate, but it doesn’t matter. But even if he steps down as chair and announces his own run for governor, Steinhardt worked as hard as anyone this year at visibility, aggressive message-delivery and hearty good sportsmanship, on behalf of winning candidates in key battleground districts. It is a thankless job in this state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 1 million registered voters, but that makes a win – even if it’s all the way down there in the Kentucky red southern corner of South Jersey – something to savor. And after putting Magellan-like circumnavigation numbers on his SUV, Steinhardt could. In an sharp elbowed developing statewide contest for the Republican nomination, the state party chair will now – coming off last night – have the inside track. He does not possess the natural talent that Ciattarelli has, but Steinhardt is presumed to have an inside baseball primary edge. In the words of one Republican, “The party showed a pulse in some areas.” Not exactly an Agincourt-like speech, but the badly fragged GOP would take it, for now.

Darrin Russo

The retired Franklin Twp. cop defeated North Plainfield Police Chief Bill Parenti by 2,000 votes to give Democrats another key seat in the rapidly red-dissolving county of Somerset. It also appears that Russo’s running mate, former Green Brook Twp. Mayor Melonie Marano, is on her way to a win, which would enable Democrats to take 3-2 control of the county freeholder board. Governor Phil Murphy and Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer wanted a Tuesday night endzone dance. They didn’t get it, but it’s moving their way, not only later this week but next year, when two more seats are up in the blue-hued county. Also of note: Russo was not the only Democrat in a changing county to win a sheriff’s race. In Burlington, Tony Basantis defeated Republican Mike Ditzel.

Matt Moench

The Mayor-elect in Bridgewater got through an epic year, first knocking off incumbent Republican Mayor Dan Hayes in the GOP Primary, then diving over the goal line past Democratic challenger Jefrey Brookner on the same night that Democrats appeared to take over Somerset County as they cliung to a 250-vote margin lead in the freeholders’ race.

Undetermined

Governor Phil Murphy

His critics would say “irrelevant.” Maybe. But he’s building goodwill in key areas (Hudson and Bergen). LD25 and LD21? By barnstorming in there, he might have contributed to depriving more inevitably anti-Murphy Democrats in the legislature. So that’s a win. The Democratic Governor avidly campaigned in LD21 and LD25 (to the chagrin of Trenton establishment players, who complained that the elastic Bostonian’s 11th hour drop downs in a Dem jersey crushed the ankles of already-performing quarterbacks and linemen) in districts that both went to the GOP with anti-Murphy messages. But the governor could not have been privately cheering for GN3 wins in South Jersey, the engine room of the anti-Murphy wing of his own party. And while denied a Tuesday night disco ball in downtown Somerville, he looks to be in position to have helped elbow down the crumbling red wall in Somerset to turn the county blue, which was one of his Tuesday night goals at the side of key ally Democratic State Party Vice Chair Peg Schaffer. His critics redoubled their bitterness in the aftermath, blaming him and his spastic political movements for key D losses. “Clearly for all the hype, the $2 million buy and barnstorm was not at all helpful and worse, resulted in losses for Democrats,” griped one establishment player. In the words of one insider, Tueday night showed red areas getting redder and blue areas getting bluer, an observation that best applies to LD1 – and maybe LD2 – contrasted with North Jersey. Ultimately, Murphy and Democratic State Party Chair John Currie can make the case – on the strength of the LD1 loss – that South Jersey is not as strong as it should be heading into the party chair’s fight.

WHO’S DOWN

The General Majority PAC

Connected to the EDA-embroiled South Jersey Democratic Party Power Broker George Norcross and maintained by chief ally Steve Ayscue, the PAC went hardcore negative in districts 1 and 8 and failed to secure victories for Democratic canddiates. These were minor losses in the big scheme. South Jersey Democrats already guarded themselves against the loss of senate seats in LD1 and LD2 (in 2017) by securing two senate seats in Burlington. The presence in the 1st of a genuine, Joe Pennacchio-style Republican with Trump loyalties, will also give South Jersey a chance to play a stragetic long game while Testa hurls GOP bombs at Murphy. Also, key South Jersey allies in places like LD11 held onto their seats. But the one piece of mail in particular, which highlighted McClellan, which Democrats running with the PAC’s support refused to condemn, certainly did not help the cause of the people it purported to serve, and projected a kind of hateful desperation that embarrassed Assemblyman Bruce Land (D-1) enough to call McClellan to apologize.

The Stockton Poll

A 14-point margin of victory for Bob Andrzejczak in LD1 proved a colossal misread by the South Jersey polling institute in late October. What an embarassment. In the words of Testa on debate night, “I don’t put much stock in the Stockton Poll.” He was right. “With all due respect to the folks at Stockton, their poll ignores both the Republican registration advantage in the 1st Legislative District and the even more favorable Republican turnout advantage in recent years,” the senator-elect said on the day the poll magically appeared.

Jeff Van Drew

A year ahead of the congressman’s reelection campaign, the Democrats in LD1 ran as “the Van Drew Team,” and lost to Testa and company. Now the 1st Legislative District is precisely not the 2nd Congressional District, but the losses by his key allies reveals a tough job ahead for the incumbent Democrat, who tried to protect himself against Republican backlash by voting against the impeachment inquiry but also may have angered Democrats in his base. Republicans were salivating this morning at the prospect of reversing the tide and reclaiming the seat formerly occupied by Frank LoBiondo.

Dawn Addiego

Having switched parties this year from Republican to Democrat, the Fran Bodinish senator from the 8th District schemed to get rid of former Republican running mate Peters. She backed doomed would-be MAGA guy Joe Howarth in the primary, then a friend of hers ran as a sham MAGA conservative; and she worked hard in Hammonton, but to no avail. It was dirty pool, under the approving, controlling gaze of the General Majority PAC. Running as independent Republicans in defiance of the “Camden cartel,” Peters and running mate Stanfield won by about 1,000 votes. Of note, according to one district source, LD8 is a battleground that tilts red because Hammonton punches above its weight, just as LD2 is a battleground that tilts blue because Atlantic City and Pleasantville punch below their weight. In the Dems’ favor, they swept countywide to take control of the freeholder board in BurlCo. But no doubt Addiego will have to face a frightening challenge in 2021 from Peters.

Tom Giangiulio 

The supposed MAGA guy in LD8 made a fool of himself, denouncing a combat veteran – and exhibiting ignorance about the country in the process – because he didn’t like that Peters publicly criticized the president. All he stood to accomplish was the election of Democrats in LD8, and the plan backfired.

Martin Marks

Along with his running mate Harris Pappas, the former mayor of Schotch Plains ran an embittered MAGA campaign in LD21 that failed when Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and his running mate, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, got back into office in a tight race.

Kelly Yaede

Running a birthers campaign, the incumbent Republican Mayor from Hamilton went down Tuesday night to Democratic Councilman Jeff Martin. “Fortunately for Hamilton, Murphy didn’t hurt us,” enthused one locally grounded champagne-soaked Dem. It was a dreadful loss for Yaede, one with an ironic twist, for she was once seen as a statewide Republican candidate, either for LG or even governor – who last night, faced with stampeding Edisonian Martin – was forced finally to appeal to Hamiltonian natives.

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  • Robert Knapp

    I am a lifelong senior citizen in the State of New Jersey and stand a trillion per cent behind the greatest governor this state has experienced in the person of Phil Murphy. I will work 24/7 and 365 days per year for his re election in 2021.

    Bob Knapp, Jersey City

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