The machinery of Election Day: Some key contests to watch

Neck and neck with Democrats nationally, heading into Election Day, New Jersey Republicans found themselves coping with a base issue.

It was just washed away by Hurricane Sandy last week, literally, or so it would appear, when you look at the fact that Republican high performing counties Monmouth and Ocean bore a vicious brunt of the storm.

That’s not to say Democrats won’t have similar challenges. Some of the state’s northern cities are still struggling with electrical connections.

“Take all your turn-out models and throw them out the window,” said Essex County GOP Chairman Al Barlas.

The good news is no one was expecting many of the higher-profile races to be competitive anyway.

If Hurricane Sandy had hit the Heldirch Hotel during redistricting, we would have a political crisis on our hands here.

As it is, incumbents will sleepwalk into re-election amid the ruins of New Jersey, and that includes U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5), the only member of Congress from this state not to sign onto a letter asking for more federal disaster relief.

But there are still implications to this election tomorrow.

See below…

Bergen Freeholder Contest

Republicans Rob Hermansen and Peg Watkins versus Democrats Steve Tannelli and Tracy Zur

What’s at Stake: Control of the biggest county in New Jersey. The composition of the freeholder board now stands at 5-2 Republican. If Tannelli and Zur win, Democrats can reclaim the board control they lost in the post-Ferriero years. A firebrand ally of Bergen County Executive Kathe Donovan’s who pushed back against his own party’s machine, Hermansen is running relentlessly as an independent brand allied with the BCRO-backed Watkins.

Passaic Freeholder Contest

Republican incumbents Deborah Ciambrone, Michael Marotta, and Edward O’Connell versus Democrats Ronda Casson Cotroneo, John Bartlett and Hector Lora

What’s at Stake: Democrats want to put the exclamation point on their recovery after the GOP swept them in humiliating fashion on the coattails of Gov. Chris Christie’s 2009 victory. Insiders say they have at least three distinct advantages this time: forced to go now on three-year terms instead of next year when Christie runs again, the Republican incumbents don’t have the governor at the top of the ticket; Democrats have President Barack Obama heading their forces, and an especially energized U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9), who heads a political machine still brimming with the congressman’s success at winning the race of the year. One GOP source told Republicans are already screening freeholder candidates for next year when Christie will presumably be on the ballot again.

The LD 16 Contest

Incumbent Assemblywoman Donna Simon (R-16) versus Democratic challenger Marie Corfield

Insiders see this as the legislative race of the cycle, where Gov. Chris Christie and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) are very engaged in trying to make sure Democrats don’t gain a Somerset County toehold. A Christie-bruised public sector art teacher, Corfield came to political prominence when she challenged the GOP governor at a town hall meeting. Simon replaced the late Assemblyman Pete Biondi (R-16), who died last year after winning re-election. Corfield came close to beating Mr. Biondi in that race.

What’s at Stake: A loss here would be embarrassing for the governor, who doesn’t want Corfield high-fiving her way into office in a longtime GOP stronghold a year ahead of the 2013 gubernatorial election.

Menendez v. Kyrillos

The U.S. Senate race hasn’t been the brawl political fiends craved, as incumbent Menendez has maintained a double-digit lead over his Republican challenger.

What’s at Stake: Menendez wants to win by double digits, showing his strength in overcoming Christie’s close friend and political ally state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13). The U.S. senator is also closely watching the presidential election. If Barack Obama wins, chances are Sen. John Kerry will relinquish his Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Menendez wants that chairmanship. If the incumbent destroys the long-serving Kyrillos  tomorrow by over 15 points, Democrats in his home county under the leadership of new Chairman Vin Gopal will look hard at challenging the senator next year.

Stack versus Sacco

The North Hudson County power brokers have their Democratic Party GOTV operations on high alert tonight as they prepare to execute high turnout totals for county overlord Menendez. The mayor of North Bergen, Nick Sacco has the edge on paper in terms of raw numbers, but Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack prides himself on having the best guerrilla political force in the state.

What’s at Stake: Christie has bludgeoned Sacco in his town halls, attempting to weaken the boss’s mystique in time for next year’s gubernatorial election. A renegade Democrat at odds with the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), Stack may well endorse Christie next year. If he shows greater machine force for Menendez than Sacco, Christie may sweeten the deal for Stack to endorse him. Constantly badgered by Stack on the other side of the border and assailed by Christie like no other Democrat this cycle, aging lion Sacco wants to show he can still muster his troops when required.

The Perth Amboy Mayor’s Race

Mayor Wilda Diaz versus Billy Delgado, Frank Salado, Miguel Morales, Robert McKoy and Sharon Hubberman.

You’ve probably seen the pictures. The city’s in ruins, or at least the waterfront is badly shredded. Salado was evacuated from his house – and he’s still running for mayor.

Incumbent Mayor Diaz has the backing of state Sen. Joe Vitale, while Vitale’s running mate, Assemblyman (and State Democratic Party Chairman) John Wisniewski backs Delgado. Since the Communications Workers of America (CWA) threw in publicly with Delgado, insiders have identified this as a two-person race between Diaz and Delgado.

What’s at Stake: After punishing Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins for aligning with Christie against public sector workers, in their estimation, the CWA has its sights set on Diaz. A victory here in this 7-1 Democratic Party stronghold would reaffirm CWA party power. Long nursing wounds and uncomfortable around each other on any public stage, Vitale and Wisniewski seek bragging rights in their own district – and maybe ultimately political survival rights.

The Jersey City Ward F Council Race

Michele Massey versus Diane Coleman

What’s at Stake: Mayoral momentum. Up for re-election in 2013, incumbent Mayor Jerry Healy appointed Massey to the council seat in the predominantly African American ward and has endorsed her in this election. Healy’s challenger, Councilman Steven Fulop, supports Coleman for the seat. This race is widely seen as a harbinger of what’s to come next May.
It’s assumed that Massey has the support of the African American community and the Jersey City machine. This is the district where Cunningham got 70 percent of the vote. Virtually a downtown icon, Fulop has the challenge here of proving he can organize in Ward F, and shake off the gold coast dust with some grassroots credibility. If Coleman wins, it bodes well for Fulop.

The Elizabeth Board of Education Contest

State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) versus former Board of Ed. Leader Rafael Fajardo

What’s at Stake: Three seats on the Board now controlled by Fajardo and his allies. This is one of the most brutal local political rivalries in the state, and the first time the school board contest will appear on a general election ballot. “It’s the first time 90% of the people voting will find themselves participating in a school board election,” said Lesniak, who feels if he can pry three seats away from Fajardo he can stick a dagger in the vaunted local machine. Wounded by indictments but still in possession of a Blue Ribbon Award winning school system and fearsome political operation, Fajardo – an ally of Gov. Christie’s – wants to prove transferability to a general election terrain as a way of demonstrating 2013 political viability when Christie presumably seeks re-election. 

The CD 3 Election

U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R-3) versus Democratic challenger Shelley Adler

Dismissed as a celebrity candidate in 2010, Runyan – a retired offensive lineman with the Eagles – seeks political respect against a viable candidate in Adler, widow of the late U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-3), who lost his seat to Runyan. Polls show Runyan up by double digits and a commanding win here would cement him in the seat.

The LD 4 Race

Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-4) versus Shelley Lovett

What’s at Stake: This is a race characterized by prodigious door knocking on the part of the incumbent, whose tweets reflect an eagerness to show connective tissue to a district the North Jersey transplant only recently occupied.  Her victory will prove (again) the South Jersey Democrats’ keen organizational ability to vault over Lovett’s successful challenge of Mosquera’s residency eligibility – by simply keeping Mosquera afloat long enough to actually become eligible.