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New Jersey Legislative Forecast

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

New Jersey goes to the polls seven days from now.

Well, actually very few New Jerseyans will go to the polls seven days from now.  Statewide registered voter turnout will fall below 30% for the first time since records have been kept.  So many seats are considered a lock that many incumbents won’t even demonstrate a minimal level of respect for voters by answering the media’s candidate questionnaires.

Considering how irrelevant voters are to the process I have decided to save us all the effort and announce the winning margins for all 120 legislative seats a week ahead of the election.

But seriously folks…  The following is an analysis of where the races stand based on prior voting patterns and developments during this fall’s campaign.  It is very similar to the town-based district partisan advantage I published shortly after the new legislative map was announced in April.

On the Senate side, 15 seats will likely be won by more than 30 point margins (10 Democrat and 5 Republican).  Look for the Hudson County seats to top 60 point margins.  Another 9 seats (2D/7R) will be won by 21 to 30 point margins; 11 districts (8D/3R) by 13 to 20 point margins, and 2 districts (1D/1R) by 8 to 12 point margins.  The remaining 3 seats should be won by Dems in 2 to 7 point margins.  [See below for specific district breakdowns.]

For the Assembly calculation, I added the total votes for each party’s candidates to determine the margin.  This does not take into account potential differences in votes for individual candidates of the same party.  While some individual victories may be close, I am not forecasting any split party Assembly delegations.

On the Assembly side, 12 districts (9 Democrat and 3 Republican) will be won more than 30 point margins.  Another 9 districts (1D/8R) will be won by 21 to 30 point margins; 8 districts (6D/2R) by 13 to 20 point margins, and 6 districts (4D/2R) by 8 to 12 point margins.  Democrats should win another 4 districts by 2 to 7 points and Republicans one district by the same margin. [See below for specific district breakdowns.]

As such, I see the Senate staying steady at a 24 to 16 Democrat edge, and the Democrats picking up one seat in the Assembly for a 48 to 32 seat advantage,

This forecast is based largely on past behavior and the incumbent protection constraints of the current legislative map.  As last weekend’s snowstorm proves, all forecasts should be taken with a huge grain of salt.  However, the extent to which actual results vary from this forecast will determine bragging rights on November 8.

A few districts bear special discussion.

District 38:  Defending Senator Bob Gordon, and his Assembly running mates, has been priority #1 for state Democrats.  If you’ve been hearing New Jersey Democratic operatives use the term “Tea Party” with Rainman-like redundancy, this district is the reason why.  Their strategy is to paint the GOP nominee, Bergen Freeholder John Driscoll, as out of the moderate mainstream.  This is one place where Gov. Christie has lent his presence on the campaign trail in order to counteract those charges.

The new legislative map dealt a real blow to the incumbents, slicing off half their existing voter base in the redistricting shuffle.  The 8 lost towns accounted for more than two-thirds of the Democrats’ plurality in recent elections and remained solidly Democratic during Chris Christie’s 2009 victory.  At the same time, the core towns left in the 38th saw their Democratic margin cut in half from 2007.  The district’s new towns gained from the 35th (Glen Rock and Hawthorne) and the 39th (Oradell, River Edge and New Milford) also voted much more Republican in the 2009 legislative races than they did in 2007.  New towns from the 37th district (Bergenfield, Maywood, Rochelle Park) remained firmly Democratic, although it’s important to note that their state senator was running for Lieutenant Governor at the time.  Bottom line: without Chris Christie at the top of the ticket to drive GOP turnout, the Democrats should be able to hold onto all three seats here.

District 2:  Republicans currently hold the Assembly seats, but the real battle is at the top of the ticket.  GOP Assemblyman Vince Polistina is hoping to knock off incumbent Democratic Senator Jim Whelan.  Democrats have a 9,000 voter registration edge here, but as past history has shown, this is not enough to ensure a D victory.  Whelan’s prospects improved when Atlantic City mayor Lorenzo Langford ended his independent bid for the seat.  Atlantic City returns accounted for about 40% of Whelan’s plurality in 2007.

The new legislative map cost this district 5 towns, with Galloway being the big prize.  While Whelan won those towns in 2007, they voted heavily for the GOP Assembly in recent years.  The towns added to this district (Buena, Buena Vista, Folsom, and Somers Point) are friendlier territory for Democrats.  This has been a pretty muddy fight, with Whelan and Polistina accusing each other of feeding at the public trough.  When races become this dirty, the attacks tend to cancel out and the status quo is maintained.  Whelan will hold on to his Senate seat and the GOP will retain the Assembly here.

District 14: It’s probably a historic relic to keep this district in the “competitive” category.  Voters in this district – which includes a sizable number of state government workers – are used to retail politics.  Former GOP legislator Bill Baroni was a master of the meet-and-greet approach and handily won what should have been a solidly Democratic district throughout the past decade.  The current Senate incumbent Linda Greenstein learned this lesson well and has spent years shaking hands to become Baroni’s successor, first in the Assembly and now in the Senate.

The GOP selected Richard Kanka, a man with some name recognition, to challenge Greenstein and have put some resources into this race.  But the fact that Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried pulled out of the Assembly race this summer is a signal that they have lowered their expectations.  Republicans were counting on a big turnout from Fried’s hometown, which the new map added to this district along with East Windsor, Hightstown and Spotswood.  These new towns replaced South Brunswick and West Windsor, the former having been a major stronghold for Greenstein, especially when she won the 2010 special election for this seat by more than 7 points.  This town shift made the district look more competitive on paper, but East Windsor and Robbinsville came from ultra-safe Republican districts where Democratic was depressed.  I would expect that more “D” voters will now turn out in these towns and the Democratic slate will win by a margin close to the upper end of the 2 to 7 point range forecast.

District 7:  Republican Diane Allen has held on to the Senate seat in what has been a Democratic district by force of her own popularity.  The Democrats have consistently won the Assembly seats.  Redistricting has led Republicans to believe they may have an outside shot at finally picking up an Assembly seat here.

This district lost Merchantville, Maple Shade, Westampton, and Mount Holly in the new map.  But the big blow to Democrats was the loss of Pennsauken, which not only cost them voters but an incumbent Assemblyman to boot.  These towns were replaced by five municipalities from solidly Republican districts: Bordentown City and Township, Fieldsboro, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.  This town shift moved what was a 5,000 vote plurality for the Democrats in 2007 to a hypothetical 1,000 vote edge.  However, since the new towns were in uncompetitive districts, we would expect the South Jersey Democratic GOTV machine now to be hard at work in these new towns.  Expect the Assembly Democrats to get about a 5 point win here, while Diane Allen cruises to a near 20 point victory.

District 1: Everything about this district says it should be solidly Republican.  And yet, Democrat Jeff Van Drew has been a winner here for the last few election cycles.  Even when he wasn’t on the ballot in 2009, District 1 voters were urged to vote for the “Van Drew Team.”  And they did.

The new legislative map actually handed this district some more Democrat-friendly towns in Cumberland County.  I expect that all three Democratic incumbents will be returned to office on Tuesday.  I included this district here though, because I think the results may be closer than expected, specifically on the Assembly side.  Usually in New Jersey legislative elections, the two members of a party’s Assembly slate get roughly the same number of votes.  One recent poll indicated that Matt Milam is running behind fellow incumbent Nelson Albano.  Couple this with the fact that the (fairly) new Cape May County GOP chairman is itching to score a victory, and it could be an interesting night in the southern end of the state.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on Districts 11 and 16.  These are considered to be safe Republican districts but they were radically redrawn in the new map so that a sizable chunk of voters are unfamiliar with the incumbents.  The Democrats are hoping to make a statement here by challenging for at least one of the Assembly seats in each district.

One of the Democratic candidates in District 11 was endorsed by the Asbury Park Press in one of the few places where a newspaper endorsement carries some weight.  It’s also one of the few districts in the state where challengers have raised more than $100,000.

District 16 used to be an almost entirely Somerset County district.  With the new legislative map, the majority of its residents now come from towns in Hunterdon, Mercer, and Middlesex counties.  Still, the Republican Party stuck with its two Somerset-based incumbents and named a Somerset freeholder for the open seat.  On the Democratic slate is a South Brunswick councilman (see District 14 above), a Hunterdon teacher, and a Somerset attorney.  They have also hit the $100,000 mark in fundraising.

And in the interest of fairness, I should mention the other district where a challenger slate reported at least $100,000 raised in their 29 day finance reports.  That would be District 27.  The GOP had hoped to challenge here but their preferred nominee was knocked off by a Tea Party backed candidate in the primary. It would add some swagger to Republicans if they could knock off Dick Codey.  But this is Dick Codey we’re talking about.  In other words, Fuhgeddaboudit!

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Senate Forecast by District
D >30 points:  19, 20, 28, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 37
D 21-30 points:  5, 18
D 13-20 points:  3, 4, 6, 15, 17, 22, 27, 36
D 8-12 points:  1
D 2-7 points:  2, 14, 38
R >30 points:  8, 10, 23, 24, 30
R 21-30 points:  9, 13, 21, 25, 26, 39, 40
R 13-20 points:  7, 12, 16
R 8-12 points:  11

Assembly Forecast by District
D >30 points:  20, 28, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 37
D 21-30 points:  5
D 13-20 points: 6, 15, 17, 18, 19, 36
D 8-12 points:  3, 4, 22, 27
D 2-7 points:  1, 7, 14, 38
R >30 points:  10, 24, 30
R 21-30 points:  8, 9, 21, 23, 25, 26, 39, 40
R 13-20 points:  12, 13
R 8-12 points:  11, 16
R 2-7 points:  2