Somerset County, New Jersey will be one of the very few down ballot battlegrounds during tomorrow’s presidential election, with County Democrats betting on depressed Republican turnout and an energized Democratic turnout in Franklin, the county’s bluest and most populous city to unseat Republican Sheriff Frank Provenanzo. Democratic challenger Darrin Russo is a 30-year veteran of the police department there, and has made his mark by securing the state PBA’s endorsement in a county where Democrats have not picked up a seat in many years.
The outcome tomorrow will depend on how Republican voters feel about their presidential candidate in a year when some are predicting that moderates will stay home on election day because of Donald Trump’s unlikely rise to the nomination. Somerset Democratic chair Peg Schaffer said that tomorrow will be her organization’s best hope of a pickup for a long time to come.
“I’ve never had a candidate that’s worked as hard as Darrin Russo has worked in this campaign, and I feel like he has a lot of support. He’s got some bipartisan support, the union endorsements were significant, so we feel like if we can’t pull this one out then we’re probably not going to be able to do it again for another decade or so.”
She predicted that Peter Jacob, the Bernie Sanders progressive challenging Republican congressman Leonard Lance, will see better numbers than his meager cash on hand might suggest.
“There’s a lot of groundswell around him and we’re coordinating GOTV efforts with his people. While I think his is certainly a major uphill battle, Lance could be in for the shock of his life, at least in this county. I don’t know that he’s going to win his district.
“I think that the Republicans in this county are sophisticated enough to not be bamboozled by that crazy man who’s running as the Republican nominee.”
Schaffer’s Republican counterpart Al Gaburo, meanwhile, said the expects Trump and Hillary Clinton’s mutual unpopularity will lead to a lower turnout overall.
“I would say that if you look at the polling, both candidates at the top of the ticket have been incredibly unpopular. That’s just a fact. I’m not terribly concerned about down ballot issues. I think we’re running very strong campaigns locally in each of the towns that are being contested. Those campaigns are all funded, they all have their own message.
“For all the places where there may be a dropoff, I think there are an equal number of places in Somerset County that there will be an increased voter turnout given the top of the ticket.”
While the race in Somerset has been marked by harsh words between Schaffer and Gaburo over allegedly disregarded Open Public Records Act requests and Russo and Provenanzo’s respective records of service, Gaburo said there will be no hard feelings when the results come in.
“This is politics. If you’re going to spend time on bad feelings, this is not the business for you to be in. Peg and I have had a relationship for ten years, I think that we respect each other and we fight hard for our constituencies. And we’ll see how the voters respond to that tomorrow, but I certainly don’t have any hard feelings.”