Republicans believe one of their best shots to pick up Assembly seats in 2007 is in the Republican-leaning first district. Democrat Jefferson Van Drew captured one of the seats in 2001, defeating GOP Assemblyman Jack Gibson. Gibson came back to win an open seat in 2003, but lost it last year to Democrat Nelson Albano. The first choice among Republicans — at least among Trenton Republicans — to challenge the incumbents are Cape May County Freeholder Leonard Desiderio and former Cumberland County Freeholder James Sauro. The GOP senses that the state government shutdown, which affected casino workers and the tourism industry in the district, makes the two Democratic legislators vulnerable. A Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that 77% of voters in South Jersey disapprove of the State Legislature. In a district the George W. Bush carried in 2004, Van Drew won a massive landslide in his bid for a third term: he finished almost 9,000 votes ahead of his running mate, nearly 16,000 votes ahead of the Republican incumbent, and more than 24,000 votes in front of the other GOP candidate. Helped by Van Drew’s coattails, state Democratic money and numerous mistakes by the state GOP, Albano, a Vineland labor official and advocate for tough drunk driving laws, defeated Gibson, a six-term incumbent, by 6,749 votes. Gibson trailed Albano in Cape May County by 107 votes (running more than 2,000 votes behind the GOP Sheriff and County Clerk candidates). Republicans were in trouble in April 2005 when their candidate for the second, seat, Upper Township Committeeman Andrew McCrosson, forgot to file his nominating petitions. That left a perennial gadfly, George Cecola, unopposed. State Republicans tried to mount a write-in campaign to nominate Sauro, but without the support of Cape May Republicans, they failed, allowing Cecola to take the second slot. Trivia: Gibson is possibly the only Assemblyman in modern New Jersey history to lose the same seat twice.