PoliticsNJ.com made a trip up to the ivory tower and asked three oft-quoted political analysts for their takes on tomorrow’s legislative elections: Ingrid Reed, Director of the Eagleton Institute’s New Jersey Project; Joe Marbach, political science professor and acting Dean at Seton Hall University; and Brigid Harrison, political science professor at Montclair State.
State Senate: Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew (D) vs. Sen. Nicholas Asselta (R)
Assembly: Assemblyman Nelson Albano (D) and Matt Milam (D) vs. Norris Clark (R) and Michael Donohue (R)
Of the two competitive south Jersey state Senate races, this one’s the real nail biter.
In this traditionally Republican district, Van Drew has cast himself as an independent Democrat who’s not beholden to Democratic Party politics. Asselta, in turn, has made an issue out of the amount of Camden County money flowing into Van Drew’s coffers, including seizing on an Atlantic City Press story demonstrating that the Democrats circumvented campaign contribution limits from unions and Camden County Democrats.
Another huge issue in this Garden State Parkway district is monetization, on which Asselta has repeatedly challenged Van Drew. But Van Drew has been tough to pin down on the issue, with him and Albano as the only two Democrats in the Assembly to vote against tabling a Republican amendment that would have struck monetization language from the state budget.
The Republicans also reached out to their party’s most popular national figure in New Jersey, with Cape May County Republican Chairman David Von Savage bringing Rudy Giuliani in to rally on behalf of the Republicans’ ticket.
A lot is at stake in this race, particularly for U.S. Rep Frank LoBiondo, who Democrats may pour serious resources into challenging in 2008. If Van Drew wins this one, many speculate that he will be the challenger the Democrats field next year.
According to a Zogby poll released over the weekend, Van Drew leads Asselta by a margin of 45%-42% — within the poll’s margin of error. Albano leads the pack of Assembly candidates, followed by Clark, Donohue and Milam.
Senate: leans Van Drew
“I just think that the late money that’s going to come in for Van Drew is probably going to be enough to put him over the top in the get out the vote effort, and the Democrats have just been so far ahead of the republicans in that field. In a low turnout year, I think it will be the difference in that race.”
“It depends how much linkage there is, if Van Drew has any kind of coattails – that’s not always the case in these assembly races. Voters have to distinguish between the assembly and senate candidates.”
Senate: Leans Van Drew
“In all the polling numbers I’ve looked at over the past three weeks, it’s not that Van Drew has such an enormous lead, it’s that his support is so solid. If you look at the breakdown of ‘Wo you prefer on this issue?’, ‘Wo do you think would better represent you on that issue?’, he comes out ahead, which leads me to believe that his support is really solid.”
Assembly: Leans Albano and Milam
“I think there’s going to be a little bit of (Van Drew) coattails, and I don’t know that those voters would choose to split their tickets when there’s so little information about the remaining candidates, so I’m going to call a Democratic sweep in the first.”
“I think that one is unpredictable. On the one hand Jeff Van Drew won by a huge margin in the Assembly. On the other hand Nick Asselta ran without a challenger the last time, and so what do you make of this district? It’s really hard to know…. This is a district where it looks like you have a very independent mindset for the voters.”
“I think the Assembly candidates are very much tied to the senate candidates. There doesn’t appear to be sort of an independent view of those people that’s very clear.”
State Senate: State Sen. James “Sonny” McCullough (R) vs. Assemblyman Jim Whelan (D)
Assembly: Vince Polistina (R) and John Amodeo (R) vs. Blondell Spellman (D) and Joe Wilkins (D)
This is another Jersey district where Democrats are trying to make inroads, pumping major money into unseating a Republican incumbent.
State Sen. Sonny McCullough, who took over the seat after popular Republican Sen. Bill Gormley retired, is defending his seat against Assemblyman and former Atlantic City Mayor Jim Whelan. McCullough is running with Assembly candidates Vince Polistina and John Amodeo against Democrats Joe Wilkins and Blondell Spellman.
Gormley’s silence in the district speaks volumes. Not only does it signify a lack of unification amongst the South Jersey Republican Party, but his absence from the campaign trail has been taken as a tacit endorsement of Whelan’s Senate aspirations.
From the beginning of this race, Whelan has been considered the favorite, and he’s out-raised and outspent McCullough by a large margin. But an internal Republican poll leaked last month gave the Republicans hope, showing McCullough in a dead heat with Whelan, and Amodeo with a 10 point lead over the rest of the Assembly candidates.
A Zogby poll released over the weekend, however, had much different results, showing Whelan with a seemingly insurmountable 13 point lead over McCullough. The Republican Assembly candidates both held significant leads over Democrats, according to the poll.
“In an odd way, the problems in Atlantic City that Bob Levy have actually benefitted Whelan, because he comes off as the only Atlantic City Mayor who hasn’t been indicted or convicted, so by comparison it’s favorable press for him. And I just think it’s too much for McCullough to overcome.”
Assembly: Leans Wilkins and Spellman
“I think this one is a top of the ticket issue. I think Whelan will have coattails and will be able to pull the Democrats through.”
“Whelan has greater name recognition – not just that people recognize his name, but they have experience with his leadership as the mayor of Atlantic City. And within the 2nd legislative district, the mayor of Atlantic City matters……… McCullough has a strong base of support in Egg Harbor Township, but I think the lack of support among the Gormley republicans will hurt him, and it really is the Gormley republicans who have managed to deliver Republican votes.”
Assembly: Polistina and Wilkins
“It’s kind of surprising to me, but (Polistina) has polled really well. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a very common name in the area… Wilkins has been such a part of Democratic party politics over the last 20 or 30 years that my inclination is that many union voters will go for Wilkins, and I also think that being sandwiched between Jim Whelan and Blondell Spellman will benefit him, because I don’t think African-American voters in Atlantic City and Pleasantville will skip over him and just vote for Spellman or one of the republicans.”
Senate: leans Whelan
“That one’s really interesting. You had Gormley always winning by a huge margin, but in other races the Democrats prevailed: Corzine beat Forrester, Kerry beat Bush. So in a way, except for the power and charisma of Gormley, this really is a Democratic district…. I don’t know how the voters go through the ballot, but if Gormley is not on the ticket and not supporting McCullough, you sort of have to say that this district would elect a Democratic Senator.”
Assembly: leans Wilkins and Spellman
“The Assembly ticket will probably be determined by who wins the senate seat. Whelan was a separate personality, he was well known as the mayor of Atlantic City, so when he won he had an identity – I don’t know if any of these other candidates have an identity.”
State Senate: Assemblyman Fran Bodine (D) vs. Burlington County Clerk Phil Haines (R)
Assembly: Dawn Addiego (R) and Scott Rudder (R) vs. Tracy Riley (D) and Chris Fifis
This is one of the few races this election cycle that has turned out to be more competitive than expected.
Assemblyman Fran Bodine, a Republican-turned-Democrat after the party chose to clear its slate and dumped him from the ticket, is challenging County Clerk Phil Haines for State Senate.
In this traditionally Republican district, both sides accuse each other of machine politics.
Camden County Democrats are making are pouring big money into this race, where Republicans never miss a chance to point to Democratic Party boss George Norcross as their chief benefactor. So far, the Democratic candidates have spent about $1.3 million here.
The Democrats, on the other hand, never fail to point out the alliance between the Republicans and GOP boss Glenn Paulsen, and have made hay out of an ethics investigation of retiring state Sen. Martha Bark.
The district has also seen the most controversial campaign flyer of this election cycle, with Republicans using a picture of a Muslim paramilitary group to criticize Riley for her husband’s court-appointed representation of an alleged Fort Dix terror plotter.
“This has really been a traditional Republican stronghold, and I would be shocked if Bodine beats Haines. Haines has been a long-term freeholder in Burlington County, has a lot of strong name recognition throughout the county, and the family name has been there 100 years or more, active in politics. I think it’s a stretch for Bodine – it’s just too republican a district.”
Assembly: leans Rudder and Addiego
“I think it becomes even more partisan oriented at that point, and I think that the Republicans have been so traditionally strong that I would give the edge to the Republican Assembly candidates too…….. I don’t think (the controversial flyer) is going to have too much of an impact on the race.”
Assembly: one seat leans Riley, toss-up for the second seat
“With Riley I think it really does boil down to name recognition, even though all the press from the get go has been negative. She was perceived from the outset of being the strongest candidate running, so I think the republicans targeted her but, in doing so, really made her a leader……….. (The flyer) on the one hand evokes sympathy, and even with folks with whom it didn’t evoke sympathy from, it got her name out there effectively……… I think in a race like this where there’s going to be relatively low turnout there’s interest, but I think name recognition is going to matter.”
State Senate: Haines
“If you’re there and you look at the local races and you think that in key towns there’s been a real increase in Democratic penetration, that would make the difference, then you might call it differently. But it just seems to me to still be a Republican district.”
Assembly: One seat likely Republican, toss-up for other seat with Tracy Riley as the Democratic contender
“It focuses attention on the election…….. It obviously has the potential of bringing out people who are concerned about terrorists infiltrating our society, but I think it raises questions about our basic values and that may energize some people to come to the Democrats or independents might say ‘enough is enough.’”
State Senate: Sean Kean (R) vs. John Villapiano (D)
Assembly: John Napolitani (D) and John Pirnat (D) vs. David Rible (R) and Mary Pat Angelini (R)
This is the sleeper race the election cycle.
While the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Joseph Palaia is considered safe for Republicans, with Republican Assemblyman Sean Kean the heir apparent over Democrat John Villapiano, Democrats have made a list minute push for at least one of the Assembly seats left vacant by Kean and retiring Republican Assemblyman Steve Corodemus.
At the last minute, Democrats poured several hundred thousand dollars into this race, running John Napolitani and John Pirnat for Assembly.
Abstained from comment
Assembly: leans Angelini and Rible
“This has been interesting in the past couple of days, but I think I’m going to lean Republican just because of the organization and the coattails — I know that the Democrats thought maybe they might be able to pull off one of these seats because the Assembly candidates’ numbers looked soft, but I think it probably is going to go down the line, especially with Kean being so far ahead.”
Assembly: leans Angelini and Rible
“One of the Democrats could make it this time, but again you’d have to say, well why, what’s the compelling reason? Is one better known than the other? And quite frankly the two assembly candidates, Mary Pat Angelini is very well-known in the county as a non-profit leader, a lot of visibility, a very attractive candidate, and Rible comes from Wall, one the largest of the municipalities in that area…. It’s hard to see that the Democrats will make a breakthrough in this district…. It’s the Republicans to lose, let’s put it that way.”
State Senate: Ellen Karcher (D) vs. Jennifer Beck (R)
Assembly: Mike Panter (D) and Amy Mallet (D) vs. Declan O’Scanlon (R) and Caroline Casagrande (R)
This is the big one – the most competitive and expensive election in the state, with close races all the way down the ticket.
Karcher came into office four years ago in this Republican leaning district as an ethics champion with big promises. She touts the fact that she’s passed a lot of reform legislation, but her opponent, Jennifer Beck, criticizes the measures as half-hearted.
While Karcher was originally the favorite to win re-election, the tide turned after a Star-Ledger story revealed a property tax break she got through classifying part of her estate as a farm, using six acres to grow Christmas trees.
Meanwhile, Karcher’s attacks against Beck for her history as a lobbyist – and most recently for her poor driving record – have yet to change the dynamic of the race.
Internal polls from last month showed Karcher trailing by six points, though she’s said to have narrowed the gap by a few points in later polls.
Just below the state Senate races are hotly contested Assembly seats. After losing to Democrat Mike Panter by a mere 65 votes two years ago, Declan O’Scanlon is making another go at the Assembly. Also running are businesswoman Amy Mallet, a Democrat, and attorney Caroline Casagrande, a Republican.
Senate: leans Beck
“I’d give her the edge because of the momentum that’s been in her favor. The Karcher farm has been a real sticking issue and sore point for voters, especially with property taxes, and beck was able to take advantage of that. It’s more or less a republican leaning district, so I think it might go back to form in this particular election.”
Assembly: leans slightly towards O’Scanlon and Casagrande
“I think if Beck carries the day…. she might have enough coattails to carry the rest of the Assembly team through. So I’ll go out on a limb and say a slight edge to the republicans in that district.”
Senate: leans Karcher
“I know that the Christmas tree thing matters, but to voters in this district I don’t know if this carries the weight that will make people vote against an incumbent…. The other thing I think is that, given the climate of the state with all kinds of indictments and investigations and charges of corruption, this kind of thing I think voters view as kind of small potatoes.”
Assembly: Panter and O’Scanlon
“I think O’scanlon has run strong and all the polling data I’ve seen indicates that his support is pretty solid. I think his voters might be sophisticated enough to pick Panter and O’Scanlon. This district has, historically, been a split district.”
Senate: leans Beck
“When Ellen Karcher won in 2003, it was absolutely clear that it was one issue: ethics, and how can you trust somebody who we had thought wouldn’t be tainted by ethical considerations. And you had this fresh face, Ellen Karcher, coming in. This election is much less clear about who these candidates are and what they stand for – they both have personal baggage, they’re both for ethics reform and so on, and I think that this is one of those situations where reverting to form. In other words, that this is a Republican district more than a Democratic district may be what tips it in favor of Beck.”
“I think that if Jen Beck should prevail, it might be difficult for the Democrats to take both seats. Especially when Declan O’Scanlon came so close the year before – in a way he’s more well-known. It’s not an equal balance.”
State Senate: Seema Singh (D) vs. Bill Baroni (R)
Assembly: Linda Greenstein (D) and Wayne DeAngelo (D) vs. Adam Bushman (R) and Tom Goodwin (R)
This competitive clean elections district is all about one Assembly seat – a contest between Democrat Wayne DeAngelo and Republicans Tom Goodwin and Adam Bushman.
If anything, the attention that outside group Common Sense America brought to the district by spending a quarter million dollars attacking Linda Greenstein has helped the incumbent Assemblywoman by keeping her name in the news, according to the professors.
Meanwhile, Republican Assemblyman Bill Baroni has been considered the favorite to win the seat of retiring Sen. Peter Inverso against Democrat Seema Singh since the campaign’s inception.
“When the Governor comes out and basically campaigns for Baroni, it’s pretty safe.”
Assembly: leans Greenstein, toss-up for second seat
“I think (Common Sense America) has done some damage, but as it becomes apparent where this group is coming from, I think voters are going to say ‘We don’t want outsiders telling us how to vote.’ I would actually give (Greenstein) the edge in this one.”
Assembly: Greenstein, second seat leans very slightly towards DeAngelo
“I think if anything (Common Sense America) has accentuated Greenstein – I think it has put Linda’s name out there more… Voters who are going to turn out in this election have been made aware of the role that outside interests are playing, so that will probably work to her favor. And if I had to call that second Assembly seat I guess what I would say is that DeAngelo has a darn good shot, just because we may see the influence statewide of organized labor in this one.”
“This district has been voting for a Republican Senator for a long time, and Baroni seems to be in that same mold…. He is seen as sort of the natural heir apparent to that senate seat, and I think that in today’s world you need longer than four months to get well-known, to take a seat away from somebody (like Baroni).”
Assembly: Greenstein, toss-up for second seat
“Linda Greenstein is very well-known in the district as well – and the fact that people know who she is and what she stands for, she may be able to withstand being swiftboated.”
State Senate: Gerald Cardinale (R) vs. Joseph Ariyan (D)
Assembly: John Rooney (R) and Charlotte Vandervalk (R) vs. Esther Fletcher (D) and Carl Manna (D)
This is a Republican district with a large Republican registration advantage, but Democrats believe that the demographics have shifted just enough that they can convince voters that long-time incumbent state Sen. Gerald Cardinale and Assemblypersons John Rooney and Charlotte Vandervalk are out of step with their constituents.
Long-time state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, who’s held the seat since 1982, is facing the toughest challenge of his incumbency, from attorney Joe Ariyan. In the Assembly race, the Democrats have fielded River Edge Councilwoman Esther Fletcher and Dumont councilman Carl Manna.
Republicans have consistently portrayed the Democrats as “puppets” of Bergen County boss Joe Ferriero, who, free from concerns over state Sen. Joe Coniglio in neighboring district 38, can pour his vast resources into the district. Over the last two weeks, Democrats have spent about $1 million on advertising, hoping to make up for reportedly trailing by double digits in internal polling.
“I think it was the democrats’ agenda to really go hard at 39, but I think they had to shore up their base in 38 and they’re going to miss this opportunity….. If they had pushed someone like Cardinale early and came out with the statements earlier in the campaign then it might have been a larger impact than it has.”
Assembly: Rooney and Vandervalk
Senate: leans Cardinale
“I think that the fact that the Democrats are pumping all this money into the district indicates that there’s some perceived weakness, so the polling numbers are saying that the voters aren’t 100% satisfied with how he’s representing the district. But my inclination is that the incumbency is pretty strong.”
Assembly: leans Vandervalk, toss-up between Rooney and Manna
“Rooney is the most vulnerable, and if he’s going to get knocked off it’s going to be Manna who knocks him off. I think that one thing that may actually sway this entire district Democrat, or at least get votes away from Cardinale and Rooney, is the union stuff – and I think that NJEA and the AFL-CIO may play a really strong role in knocking off two of those three republicans. Manna has AFL-CIO, and with Corzine coming into the district, the money that they’re pumping into this, it may bode well for the Democrats at least in picking up one Assembly seat.”
“I just don’t see where you get the traction. In this case Cardinale is pretty conservative. The stem cell bond issue may actually help him, because it organizes the conservatives in the republican areas. There’s been a lot of consensus that stem cell research is a really organized effort on the part of conservative Republicans, o that makes it even harder in this district.”
Assembly: Rooney and Vandervalk
“I haven’t heard anything that would signify that the Assembly Democrats have done anything to be more visible or charismatic that would attract the attention of Republicans crossing over, or independents coming to the polls.”