BERKELEY HEIGHTS – Political observers long have deemed Legislative District 21 as reliably safe Republican terrain.
But last year’s election results tell a different story. The district, which covers parts of three counties – Union, Somerset and Morris – is now represented in Congress by Democrats.
Hoping to avoid a similar fate, Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz, the district’s two GOP Assembly members, held a gala campaign kickoff Monday night at Mt. Carmel Hall. About 400 people attended an impressive event that included a DJ and a very traditional political staple – pizza, beer and wine.
November is 10 months away, but even now, there are many ways to evaluate this race and others in New Jersey. On the surface, this is a very ho-hum election cycle with the state Assembly, hardly a major draw, topping the ticket.
But after Democrats came close to sweeping the state’s congressional races two months ago, the question is whether that energy will last through this year. After all, getting excited about flipping Congress is one thing, sustaining that energy for an Assembly that Democrats already control is quite another.
There is no shortage of possible Democratic candidates. They include Cranford Mayor Patrick Giblin, Carlos Gomez of Mountainside, New Providence Dem Chair Stacy Gunderman, Lacey Rzeszowski (who came within 1500 votes of winning in 2017), Jill LaZare of Summit, Goutam Jois of Summit, Lisa Mandelblatt of Westfield and Scott Salmon of Springfield, The last three – Jois, Mandelblatt and Salmon – all sought the party’s congressional nod last year in CD-7.
The GOP’s strategy as enunciated Monday night covers a few areas.
One is the common refrain that Democrats always raise taxes, which Munoz mentioned. It is true that taxes on such things as riding an Uber have risen, but the only broad-based tax raised by Gov. Murphy and the Democrats is the income tax on those making at least $5 million a year. Nobody has marched in the streets – and no one probably will – if Eli Manning, Bruce Springsteen and the like have to pay a bit more in state income taxes.
Another issue may be some of Murphy’s missteps, such as the ongoing investigation into the alleged rape of one Murphy staffer by another.
Munoz is on the committee investigating the matter.
Doug Steinhardt, the state GOP chair, seemed to have that in mind when he told the supportive crowd, “The Democratic machine is wreaking havoc in Trenton.”
Bramnick eschewed political attacks and spoke of the deep satisfaction he gets helping average people – from mandating that all schools have defibrillators to fighting insurance companies to help a constituent get needed medication.
Well aware that many attribute the Democrats’ recent success to the unpopularity of Donald Trump, Bramnick said afterwards, “This year is a state election.” And he hopes voters will see that Republicans need to be elected to at least put some checks on the state’s overwhelming Democratic presence in Trenton.
As many know, Bramnick moonlights as a stand-up comic. On this night, he didn’t offer an act, but he drew laughs when he recounted something his father told him. And that was, “If you look too closely at your friends, you won’t have any.”
He said that goes for politicians as well. Bramnick said he knows voters are not going to like everything he does, but he wants them to see him as a guy who does his sincere best to represent them.