Hard to win without candidates

Three Democratic Senators served with federal subpoenas as part of the ongoing state budget probe come from legislative districts where the Republicans have been reasonably competitive over the few last campaigns, yet the GOP seems to have taken a pass on these districts for the 2007 general election.

In the 36th district, which was represented by a Republican in the Assembly as recently as sixteen months ago, the GOP has no candidate against two-term State Senator Paul Sarlo. Sarlo was served with a subpoena on Tuesday. Michael Guarino, a 78-year-old former Bergen County Health Inspector, switched parties to join the Senate race earlier this month, but was dropped from the ballot when he failed to get 100 valid signatures on his petitions. Unless Republicans can mount a successful write-in bid (they need 100 votes for one candidate), Sarlo — with a subpoena and a $500,000 warchest — would be unopposed in the potentially competitive district. In 2003, Sarlo won 53% of the vote. Republican Paul DiGaetano was re-elected the same year by 1,758 votes, and George W. Bush won 46% in the 36th a year later.

Republicans filed no candidate againt State Senator Nicholas Scutari, a freshman Democrat from Linden. Scutari's former wife is employed by a non-profit organization that Scutari allegedly helped win state funding. The Senator from Gregorio, who was a last-minute replacement in 2003 when incumbent Joseph Suliga dropped out of the race after a late-night incident in Atlantic City. Republican Martin Marks, the Mayor of Scotch Plains, won 45% of the vote in that race.

The 38th district — which had a Republican Assemblywoman as recently as January 2004 — failed to attract a top-tier candidate to run against two-term Democratic State Senator Joseph Coniglio. Coniglio, re-elected in 2003 with 55% of the vote, received $5,500-a-month as a plumbing consultant for Hackensack University Medical Center — later the recipient of over $1 million in state grants. The GOP is running former Elmwood Park Councilman Robert Colletti for the Senate.

In case you haven't noticed, the Democrats have a 22-18 majority in the Senate. While they are heavily favored to retain control (and with strong Senate candidates in the first and second districts, they could pick up seats), Republicans could (hypothetically) be positioned to win control — if they can defeat Ellen Karcher in the 12th, and if the Christmas Tree scandal winds up having legs. But without candidates, their chances are greatly diminished.

Hard to win without candidates