Evesham has more registered voters than any other municipality in Burlington County, and in 2006 cast the second highest number of votes in the county. It is one of the premier swing towns in the state, and in increasingly competitive Burlington County, it is the ultimate battleground in the fight for control of county government.
On Tuesday, Evesham rejected their longtime Mayor, Gus Tamburro, and replaced him with Tamburro's '03 campaign manager, ex-NFL Assistant Coach Randy Brown. While municipal elections in Evesham are nominally non-partisan, the influence of both parties loom large in these local elections. Tamburro and his unsuccessful Council candidates were strongly backed by the Burlington County Republican organization, while Brown (who will now take office with a Council majority) had the backing of powerful South Jersey Democratic leaders. Make no mistake: Evesham was a huge win for the Democrats.
What remains to be seen — at least for the next six months — is whether Democratic control of Evesham (with 4,453 Republicans, 4,067 Democrats and 17,847 unaffiliated voters) will produce pluralities for Democratic candidates in November. This is a town with a history of splitting their tickets: in 2006, Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez carried Evesham by 219 votes, while Republican Congressman Jim Saxton won it by 1,123. In 2005, GOP gubernatorial candidate Douglas Forrester beat Democrat Jon Corzine by 464 votes, while Forrester's running mate, then-Republican Assemblyman Francis Bodine, carried the town by more than 1,500 votes.
John Kerry won Evesham in 2004, edging out George W. Bush by 50 votes. Saxton won the town by 6,475 votes over Assemblyman Herbert Conaway, who represented a neighboring legislative district.
In 2003, GOP State Senator Martha Bark's
margin in Evesham was 1,892 and Bodine won by 1,872.
In the 2001 gubernatorial race, Democrat James E. McGreevey defeated Republican Bret Schundler by 695 votes, while Bark won 1,297. A year earlier, Al Gore beat Bush by 1,662, while GOP U.S. Senate candidate Bob Franks won it by 2,230 over Corzine.
Democrats won, in part, because of a high-tech GOTV operation organized by state Democrats. Challengers at every polling location entered data into blackberries, which uploaded data in real time to campaign phone banks and door-knockers in the field via a wireless network.
Burlington is, on paper, New Jersey's most politically competitive count, with voter registration in Burlington almost evenly divided — 52,078 Republicans, 50,825 Democrats, and 142,737 unaffiliated voters. While Republicans have dominated county government for more than twenty years — usually by wide margins — Democratic candidates for President, Governor and U.S. Senator have carried Burlington in every election but two since 1993. (Christine Todd Whitman won Burlington by 665 votes over Jim Florio, and Franks by 3,721 over Corzine.)
In 2006, Democrats scored a big victory with the election of a Surrogate — defeating a longtime GOP Freeholder for the job Republican Elton Conda held from 1966 until his death last year. South Jersey Democrats are targeting races for Sheriff and Freeholder this year, with the long-term plan of seizing control of county government in 2008. Scandals involving the Burlington County Bridge Commission will play a role in this campaign, Democrats say — although the GOP-controlled Freeholder Board has taken certain steps to reform the bridge commission.
In the eighth district, their ticket will be led by State Senate candidate Francis Bodine, a 72-year-old Assemblyman who switched parties in April after the Republicans dropped him from their ticket. Bodine has won easily in races for the Assembly, Freeholder and Mayor of Moorestown over a political career that began in 1976. He played an unusually active role in this week's Evesham election, campaigning with the Democrat-backed slate and recording automated phone calls on their behalf. But will South Jersey Democrats spend Maddenesquely to elect Bodine to the Senate over Republican Phil Haines, the County Clerk?
And the power and abilities of the Burlington County Republican Organization ought not be taken for granted. The GOP County Chairman, Col. Mike Warner, is an exceptionally able leader, and Republicans have replaced weak incumbents like Bark and Assemblyman Larry Chatzidakis with more skilled campaigners.
In the Democratic-leaning 7th district, where popular GOP State Senator Diane Allen heads the ticket (her opponent, lawyer/undertaker Richard Dennison seems to be running against the President (a strategy which won't get him elected, but will help energize the Democratic base in Burlington County), the GOP has an exceptionally strong Assembly challenger against Conaway and incumbent Jack Conners: former NHL left wing Brian Propp, a member of the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame and the Flyers' radio announcer.