New Jersey primary day is upon us. There is no significant, over-arching story here. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just making up things.
Expect a little over 400,000 voters to show up. That’s less than 10% of eligible voters. Or about 15% if you just count registered Democrats and Republicans. This turnout level has been typical for the past decade or so. [One exception: the February 2008 Presidential primary turnout of more than a third of New Jersey’s electorate.]
So with nothing driving a statewide narrative, let’s go to the play-by-play.
The Bergen-Passaic Smackdown. Early money gave the edge to Steve Rothman because more voters in this newly-redrawn district knew him as their incumbent Congressman. But the tide has shifted over the past couple of weeks. Rothman launched an attack on Bill Pascrell’s “progressive” credentials. And then kept piling on. Democratic primary voters predisposed to identify with Rothman’s strident ideology grew a little uneasy with his relentless assault against a fellow Democrat. That tinge of doubt was enough to provide Pascrell an opening. And he was handed the golden ticket of a Bill Clinton endorsement. There are only two people who could possibly sway on-the-fence Democratic primary voters and they are Presidents # 42 and 44. Bottom line: a photo op in the White House with the incumbent (or the endorsement of a surrogate) is no match for the full-throated support of a Democratic Party Goliath. Winner: Pascrell
What could have, and perhaps should have, been a wide open race to fill the seat of deceased Congressman Donald Payne ended up being an endorsement of his legacy – in the form of Donald Payne, Jr. – by most of the party faithful in Essex County. Most, but not all. Newark Councilman Ron Rice is a tenacious campaigner. Importantly, he claims support from the CWA and the SEIU – two unions who can be counted on to actually put feet on the street for GOTV. If it were just a race between these two, I might give the edge to Rice. However, the presence of State Senator Nia Gill (who has the line in a divided Hudson County) and Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith, along with two other candidates, will serve to split the “anti-legacy” vote. Rice will take a fair share of the Newark vote and do well in the Union County portion of the district, but will come up short. Winner: Payne (in a close contest)
2010 nominee Anna Little hopes lightning strikes twice and she knocks off the Monmouth County organization’s preferred candidate – this time, Ernesto Cullari. But it just ain’t gonna happen. It’s not because the party has gotten any better at GOTV. Fewer than 14,000 Republicans voted in the last primary – and the only reason more will vote this year is that native son Joe Kyrillos is running for Senate. The bigger issue is that some of Little’s key supporters have fallen out with her since the last race. Winner: Cullari
Conservative David Larsen is taking another crack at incumbent Leonard Lance. Larsen has positioned himself as a true Reagan conservative. Lance counters that Larsen didn’t even vote in the 1980 and 1984 Presidential elections. Larsen fell 8,000 votes short two years ago and will do the same this time around. Winner: Lance
Incumbents Rob Andrews (D1), Frank LoBiondo (R2), Chris Smith (R4), Scott Garrett (R5), and Albio Sires (D8) have token opposition. State legislator Joe Kyrillos is facing three un-funded opponents in his bid for the GOP nomination to take on incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Menendez. The party line picks will win easily in all those contests.
There are also battles to tilt at windmills – I mean, take on the incumbent from 3 Democrats in CD2, 3 Democrats in CD5, and 3 Republicans in CD9. I don’t have any picks in those races, but it’s worth noting that one of the candidates is running under the slogan, “My Shelter Dog’s Name is Roscoe.”
There are also state legislative primaries in two seats. Assemblywoman Betty DeCroce (R26), who was appointed to fill her late husband’s seat, faces a challenge from Anthony Pio Costa. DeCroce should win easily on name recognition alone.
The more interesting – interesting being a relative term here – primary is in the 16th District. Democrats Marie Corfield and Sue Nemeth are battling it out to take on incumbent Assemblywoman Donna Simon, who was picked to fill the late Peter Biondi’s seat when he died shortly after the 2011 election. Corfield – a teacher whose prior claim to fame was as the foil in one of Gov. Christie’s ubiquitous You-Tube moments – ran in that prior election and made a tight race out of what was expected to be an easy Republican win. Princeton Councilwoman Nemeth claims to have a good ground game, but it will be difficult to overcome the fact that Corfield has the party line in 3 out of the district’s 4 counties.