TRENTON – Despite redistricting changes that helped three of four Democratic incumbents in swing districts in New Jersey, Republicans exited the primary in June believing that an advantageous political environment could fuel big gains in the state this year.
They still hope so. But things seem to have changed significantly in the last three months, with Democrats now feeling more confident about holding onto most or all of what they have gained in recent election cycles.
The party that’s out of power – right now, the Republicans – generally has a motivational edge in midterm elections. A few months ago, with gas prices spiking and overall inflation on top of that, a tremendous year seemed to be shaping up for them.
But since June, with gas prices moving back down and the Supreme Court overturning the nationwide right to an abortion, that has changed, says political scientist Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
‘Both sides have reason to be enthusiastic’
“Democrats have gotten more engaged as well, and now it’s looking more like that 2018 environment where both sides have reason to be enthusiastic,” Rasmussen said.
Redistricting had already fortified the chances for Democratic incumbents Josh Gottheimer, Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill, as the adjustments to the map boundaries to rebalance their populations also tilted those districts’ voter registration composition toward Democrats.
Rasmussen said the voter registration composition in both the 3rd and 11th Districts shifted 50,000 toward the Democrats, while the 5th District moved 40,000 in their direction. Among swing districts, only the 7th District moved toward Republicans in redistricting, by a net of around 30,000 voters.
“It takes a lot to knock off an incumbent, and there are reasons for them to be enthusiastic and optimistic everywhere really except for that 7th District,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said three months ago, he’d have said Kean was the favorite in the race. That’s less pronounced now.
“But I think that there’s still a lean,” he said. “You can’t really deny that Tom Kean still has advantage in that district.”
“It’s the one race in the state where you would say at this point that you could still see a detectable Republican leaning at this point,” he said. “And we’ll see what happens because the environment is changing rapidly and I think will continue to change rapidly between now and November.”
Rasmussen was referring to the lean of the swing districts. He said neither Republican incumbent in New Jersey – Chris Smith or Jeff Van Drew – “are sweating it at this point.”
The election is nine weeks away, on Nov. 8.
Given the levels of enthusiasm on both sides, Rasmussen said he wouldn’t be surprised to see turnout similar to 2018’s midterm level of 56%.
“I think that that’s possible,” he said. “And I don’t think that we’ll be sitting here embarrassed by how few voters voted after Election Day.”
Turnout won’t be close to two years ago, when it was 72% for the presidential election. The last three times that House races topped the ballot, turnout was 42% to 43% of registered voters.
Who is on the ballot in NJ
Rep. Donald Norcross of Camden, Democratic Party
Claire Gustafson of Collingswood, Republican Party
Isaiah Fletcher of Cherry Hill, Libertarian Party
Allen Cannon of Titusville, Cannon Fire
Patricia Kline of Turnersville, For the People
Rep. Jeff Van Drew of Dennis Township, Republican Party
Tim Alexander of Galloway, Democratic Party
Michael Gallo of Lower Township, Libertarian Party
Anthony Parisi Sanchez of Millville, Not For Sale
Rep. Andy Kim of Moorestown, Democratic Party
Bob Healey of Moorestown, Republican Party
Christopher Russomanno of Bordentown, Libertarian Party
Gregory Sobocinski of Southampton, God Save America
Rep. Christopher Smith of Toms River, Republican Party
Matthew Jenkins of Colts Neck, Democratic Party
Jason Cullen of Manalapan, Libertarian Party
Pam Daniels of Brick, Progress With Pam
David Schmidt of Toms River, We the People
Hank Schroeder of Sea Girt, no slogan filed
Rep. Josh Gottheimer of Wyckoff, Democratic Party
Frank Pallotta of Mahwah, Republican Party
Jeremy Marcus of Monroe, Libertarian Party
Trevor Ferrigno of Fair Lawn, Together We Stand
Louis Vellucci of Mahwah, American Values
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of Long Branch, Democratic Party
Susan Kiley of Hazlet, Republican Party
Tara Fisher of Lindenwold, Libertarian Party
Eric Antisell of New Brunswick, Move Everyone Forward
Inder Jit Soni of Edison, New Jersey First
Rep. Tom Malinowski of East Amwell, Democratic Party
Thomas Kean Jr. of Westfield, Republican Party
Veronica Fernandez of Long Valley, Of, By, For!
Robert Menendez of Jersey City, Democratic Party
Marcos Arroyo of West New York, Republican Party
Dan Delaney of Hoboken, Libertarian Party
Joanne Kuniansky of West New York, Socialist Workers Party
David Cook of Kearny, various slogans: The Mediator; People Over Parties; Vote Real Change
Pablo Olivera of Newark, Labour Party
John Salierno of Jersey City, Truth and Merit
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. of Paterson, Democratic Party
Billy Prempeh of Paterson, Republican Party
Sean Armstrong of Jersey City, Libertarian Party
Lea Sherman of West New York, Socialist Workers Party
Rep. Donald Payne Jr. of Newark, Democratic Party
David Pinckney of Irvington, Republican Party
Kendal Ludden of Bayonne, Libertarian Party
Clenard Childress Jr. of East Orange, The Mahali Party
Dorothy Jane Humphries of Jersey City, Together We Can
Cynthia Johnson of Glen Ridge, Jobs and Justice
Rep. Mikie Sherrill of Montclair, Democratic Party
Paul DeGroot of Montville, Republican Party
Joseph Biasco of Lincoln Park, Libertarian Party
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of Ewing, Democratic Party
Darius Mayfield of East Brunswick, Republican Party
Lynn Genrich of Allentown, Libertarian Party