Legislative District 16 Senate race:  Bateman should prevail 


A recent Democratic poll has New Jersey Democrats energized about their prospects of toppling incumbent Republican Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman in the 16th District Senate race.  This has been historically a solid Republican seat, even during the aftermath of Watergate.    

At one time, this district was comprised almost solely of Somerset County municipalities.  Recent reapportionments have changed this, and the 2011 reapportionment resulted in the inclusion of a significant portion of Hunterdon County.  Somerset County Republicans who held the seat included such historic legislative figures as Ray Bateman, Jack Ewing, and Walt Kavanaugh.  

The poll is not the only reason Democrats are energized about this campaign.  The apportionment of 2011 made this district much more winnable for the Democrats than before, due to the inclusion of the major Democratic bastions of Princeton from Mercer County and South Brunswick from Middlesex County.  Yet just as significant is the fact that the Democrats now have a voter registration plurality over the Republicans in Somerset County, something absolutely unforeseeable at the beginning of this century.  All this made possible the upset victory of Andrew Zwicker in the 2015 Legislative District 16 Assembly race. 

If the Republicans want to remain competitive in future statewide races, they absolutely cannot afford to lose this Senate seat.  A Democratic victory would give them significant influence over all gubernatorial appointments in Somerset County, thereby increasing their fundraising capability and party infrastructure building capability.  And it remains axiomatic that no Republican can win a statewide race unless he or she carries the Northwest Quadrant (Warren, Hunterdon, Sussex, Morris, and Somerset Counties) by at least 100,000. 

Obviously, this is a challenge the Republicans must take seriously.  It does appear likely, however, that Kip Bateman will be reelected, due to three significant factors: 

1.  Bateman is both a solid senator and a solid candidate. 

Kip has a strong center-right voting record, with genuine concern for the environment.  His integrity is unimpeachable.  He also has displayed independence in his relationship with the outgoing Christie administration.  

As a candidate, Kip has a gentlemanly way of disarming both voters and opponents.  Both will be on display during this campaign. 

Finally, the Bateman name, as established by Kip’s late father, Ray, remains hallowed in the annals of Somerset County politics.  This has benefitted Kip in all his previous Assembly and Senate campaigns. 

2.  Bateman has an excellent political team.  

His consultant, Chris Russell, is both a superb strategist and tactician, with remarkable competence in framing a message.  And Kip is fortunate that the Somerset GOP chair, Al Gaburo and Hunterdon GOP chair Patrick Torpey are leaders of remarkable political competence who understand what message works in their counties. They also are masters in directing their troops to get out the GOP vote on Election Day. 

3.  The Democratic candidate, Laurie Poppe, has no elective office experience. 

Poppe, an attorney and social worker, ran unsuccessfully for Hillsborough Township Committee in 2015 and 2016.  These losses should prepare her for the emotional disappointment of another defeat.  

She received the nomination because all the potential competitive Democratic challengers against Bateman, including Zwicker, decided to forego the race. 

I have a propensity to make boxing analogies for political contests.  In this race, what comes to mind is the 1957 world heavyweight championship fight between the then champion, Floyd Patterson, and the Olympic heavyweight champion, Pete Rademacher, who was making his first professional fight.  Patterson had a glass jaw, and Rademacher scored a fluke knockdown in Round 2.  Floyd got up quickly, knocked Rademacher down seven times, and scored a sixth round knockout.  

In this race, Bateman is Patterson and Poppe is the first time challenger, Rademacher.  One difference: Bateman does not have a political glass jaw. 

The great unknown in this race is what measure of financial resources will the Democratic leadership PACs and independent Super PACs provide on behalf of the Poppe campaign.  Another unknown is the degree to which the anticipated Murphy landslide will depress GOP turnout.  All this will affect Kip Bateman’s vote total, but regardless, he should prevail 

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman. 

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