In the forthcoming Tuesday, November 5, 2019 New Jersey Legislative elections, all 80 seats in the Assembly are up for election but only one Senate seat, to wit, in the 1st District (Cumberland, Cape May, and Atlantic). Currently, the Democrats are the majority party in both Houses. In the Senate there are 26 Democrats and 14 Republicans. There are 54 Democrats and 26 Republicans serving in the General Assembly.
Of the forty legislative districts, there are only four where there is a possibility of a change of party, namely, the 1st District (Senate and Assembly seats currently held by Democrats), and the 8th (Burlington, Atlantic, Camden), 21st (Union, Somerset, and Morris), and 25th (Morris and Somerset) where the Assembly seats are all currently held by Republicans. Accordingly, the outcome of the races statewide could range from a net Republican pickup of one Senate and two Assembly seats to a net Democratic pickup of six Assembly seats and no Senate losses.
A note to would be pundits. Don’t put too much reliance on legislative polls. In my experience, they can be most unreliable, although the good ones can tell you something about the trend.
In some midterm off year legislative elections, the statewide result is often a referendum on the incumbent governor, particularly if he or she has enacted a broad-based tax increase. This is not such a year. New Jerseyans are largely apathetic regarding Governor Phil Murphy, and his proposed Millionaire’s tax does not constitute a broad-based tax increase. To a remarkable extent, he is a non-factor in this year’s election.
Yet the outcome of the 2019 legislative elections will shape the nature of the 2021 gubernatorial race. Specifically, a poor NJGOP 2019 showing will make it more or less incumbent upon the 2021 NJGOP gubernatorial candidate to lower the Republican general election tone on his message and campaign in the independent style of a Charlie Baker in Massachusetts or a Larry Hogan in Maryland.
It must be emphasized that issues vary in their salience and effectiveness from district to district. Gun control, for example, will not be an effective message issue for the Democrats in the 1st, but it has the potential to do serious damage to Republican incumbents Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz in the 21st.
I am always reluctant to make predictions on New Jersey legislative races. That is especially true in this year of 2019, where the turnout will be abysmally low.
Nevertheless, with nine days to go, the following three factors portend a Democratic Assembly gain.
The first is a widening gender gap in favor of the Democrats brought about by the Trump factor. Trump toxicity has damaged the Republican brand more in New Jersey than in virtually any other state. In New Jersey, this is particularly true of women voters, who have left the NJGOP in wholesale fashion.
The second is the way the Democrats have perfected the use of Vote by Mail (VBM). This is enabling the Democrats to attract voters who otherwise would not vote, particularly senior shut-ins. While Republicans were complaining across the country about legislation enabling VBM, Democrats were preparing to perfect its use. This effort could be critical to narrow Democratic victories in Districts 8, 21, and 25.
The third is the continued changing ethnic, educational, and gender demographics in New Jersey. The ongoing great New Jersey post-World War II migration of first, second, and third generation descendants of Eastern European immigrants from the urban areas to the suburbs and finally to the exurbs makes for a much different ethic picture in the Union and Morris County electorates, benefitting the Democrats. The increase in the women’s vote and the higher educational level of voters, wherever it takes place in America, always presages a Democratic trend.
At this time of the World Series, I remember the late, great Yankees announcer Melvin Albert Israel, a/k/a Mel Allen. His famous quote was “we shall see what we shall see.” Indeed, this is true of NJ Legislative Elections 2019.
In almost every midterm election in New Jersey, the party controlling the Governor’s Office loses seats. This year, however, the political tea leaves presage a Democratic gain. To that, Mel Allen would have responded, “How about that!”
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.