There are great primary races for State Senate and Assembly in seven districts tomorrow. Some are about the candidates themselves, and others are about power struggles between party leaders and other key players.
Each of these districts – 24, 26, 28, 29, 31, 33 and 40 – are competitive only in primaries. That means a victory in Tuesday’s primary in tantamount to election.
PoliticsNJ.com asked four political science professors who keep a careful eye on New Jersey politics for their predictions in key races: Ingrid Reed, the Director of the Eagleton Project at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute for Politics; David Rebovich, the Managing Director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics; Montclair University Political Science Professor Brigid Harrison; and Seton Hall University Political Science Professor (and Acting Dean) Joseph Marbach.
District 24 – Guy Gregg vs. Steve Oroho – State Senate
This race will likely hinge on two factors: how strong the Littell family’s grip on power is in the district, and geography.
The seat is currently occupied by retiring State Senator Robert Littell, who has served as a legislator for the district since 1968. He tapped Sussex County Freeholder Steve Oroho as his successor, and his daughter, Allison Littell McHose, is running for Assembly on the same ticket.
The seat traditionally goes to a Sussex County politician, as the county makes up about 70 percent of the district. But Morris County’s Guy Gregg has represented Sussex County in the State Assembly for fourteen years.
Reed: Toss up
“I’ve heard that Gregg has been going at it with energy, and it’s hard to know what the Littells have been doing, but the numbers I think are on the Sussex side. So it’s kind of Sussex’s to lose,” said Reed. “Since there’s such a small percentage of the electorate that comes out to vote in this, will this primary be a result of [The Littell’s] influence and will their candidate win, or will there be a surge of younger, more activated, dominant Morris County activists who will say ‘look it’s somebody else’s time’?
Rebovich: Toss up
“It’s the Littell family, the most recognizable and powerful political family in that part of the state, butting heads with Guy Gregg, a lawmaker who is really highly respected in Trenton. Down here in Trenton, it’s hard to imaging talking to Guy Gregg in the state house that his constituents would not nominate him for a senate seat – he knows what’s going on, he’s very confident. But that’s snot what this race is about – it’s personality, family political turf and geography.”
Harrison: Toss up
“It’s really a close one, but I do know that Guy Gregg has the backing of a lot of the moderate power players within the statewide republican party. Does that mean he can get people out to vote? Maybe not…. And again it’s the problem of when you have long-time incumbents, sure voters are accustomed to voting for them, but when you have a competitive primary, is that enough? I’m not sure that it is.”
Marbach: Leans Gregg
“From what I’ve seen and read, it looks like Guy Gregg’s probably going to be the nominee. This is not with any particular inside information – it’s just from what I’ve been able to glean from different reports
District 26 – Larry Casha vs. Jay Webber – Assembly
It’s actually a three-way race, but you wouldn’t know it. Lary Casha and Jay Webber both support Assemblyman Alex DeCroce are running for the open seat that belonged to retiring Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio.
Webber is presenting himself as the true conservative, and has name recognition for running against State Senator Bob Martin four years ago, who many conservatives consider too moderate. But Casha, a former aide to Martin, is running also running on the right. Both are trying to appeal to the more conservative voters who come out for a primary. It’s Casha, the establishment candidate vs. Webber, the conservative (and the establishment candidate in Passaic).
Reed: Toss up
“If you look at Morris county, and they may not be the Republican voters who vote in primaries, but you’ve seen a shift that they’ve been willing to vote Democratic…. but that may be a whole different set of voters, and in this case the primary voters being further to the right in republican primaries and further to the left in democratic primaries — if that holds, Webber has the edge.”
“I think it’s really hard to know what’s going to happen in this race and who’s going to get out the vote, because there are so few voters who vote in these primaries.”
Rebovich: Toss up
“Webber ran against Bob Martin for State Senate. He has some name recognition form that and this sterling resume that suggests that he is a guy on the move. But of course Tuesday boils down to voter turnout, and the person who’s in office has a built in constituency and campaign operation, so you can’t count Casha out.”
Harrison: Toss up
“It’s interesting they decided to do this because in some ways they’re both kind of using the same theme, and if you’re looking at that – assuming that the conservative wing of the Republican Party is organized — why are they running two guys basically saying the same thing? Someone told me that one was put in by DeCroce to kind of mitigate the impact of the other – just a rumor that I’ve heard. Both have been surprisingly well funded, particularly Casha. He’s raised a quarter million dollars in a republican state senate primary. That’s impressive.”
Marbach: Abstained from comment
District 28 – State Senator Democratic Primary. Ron Rice vs. Bilal Beasley
The person with arguably the most to win or lose in this primary isn’t even on the ticket. It’s a test of Cory Booker’s power as a political boss.
Booker is backing Beasley against Ronald Rice, the seven-term incumbent, who ran against Booker for Mayor of Newark last year. Rice fared poorly in that contest, but the West Ward is his base. This is a contest between Rice’s longtime popularity and Booker’s new clout in a race where his name isn’t on the ballot.
Reed: Toss up
“Given Ron Rice’s organization in his run against Corey Booker for mayor, you’d have to think that this race is one that the Corey Booker team could win, but I just don’t think we have any indication of the expertise of the booker team to perform when he’s not on the ticket.”
Rebovich: Toss up
“This is really a test of Booker’s ability to get his supporters to turn out who believe that he and this new administration are best served by a changing of the guard in the legislature, and Rice’s slate makes the point that, ‘hey booker is trying to be a new boss – he claims to be a reformer and he’s trying to be a new boss, and he should be feared.’”
“Obviously being mayor of Newark gives Booker an enormous amount of political infrastructure – the ability to help get the vote out- but you can never discount the power that incumbents have and the connections that they have.
Harrison: Leans very slightly towards Rice
“I think that this is probably going to be a relatively low turnout race, so it really is a question of organization on this one. Beasley, it had to be like May 21st that he still had close to $70,000 cash on hand – that’s quite a lot of money for a get out the vote organization, twice as much as Ron Rice had. But rice has spent a lot more in advertising and that kind of stuff. If I had to call it , which I wouldn’t want to, I would call rice – but these things tend to be unpredictable.”
Marbach: Leans Rice
“That’s an interesting race, because booker seems to be flexing his political muscle a little earlier in this campaign. … One person that I know who’s involved in Essex politics told me it’s going to be pretty close and they thought Rice was probably going to be able to pull it off – so I wouldn’t be surprised if Rice does win. That would be based on name recognition and the local organization he’s been able to develop.”
District 29 – Democratic Assembly race – Wilfredo Caraballo, Albert Coutinho and Grace Spencer
This is another test of Cory Booker and the Essex County machine.
Wilfredo Caraballo has a lot of respect and name recognition, but after bucking Newark insider Steve Adubato, Sr. on some policy issues, he’s lost Democratic Party support and is out there by himself.
He’s facing a challenge Coutinho and Spencer, both of whom are running on a slate with State Senate candidate Teresa Ruiz and have the support of Corey Booker.
Race comes into play: Ruiz’s picture has shown up on campaign signs all over the district, in what may be an attempt to cut into Caraballo’s Hispanic base. Newark City Councilman Luis Quintana has filed petitions in Trenton to run against Ruiz as an independent in the general election, but observers say the race is too close for that to change the dynamic too much.
Observers agree that the odds are against Caraballo in this race, unless constituents are outraged by the way he was tossed aside by the organization, as they were when the local organization turned against State Senator Nia Gill in the 2003 primary.
Reed: Leans Coutinho and Spencer
Reed said that it doesn’t look good for the incumbent Assemblyman “unless Caraballo is really organizing and has a strong community network, a sense that ‘boy he’s done a good job for us we don’t want to lose him and why are the leaders kicking him out,’ and if there’s kind of a spirit of outrage about what happened to hin… When the democrats didn’t endorse Nia Gill, she went out and surprised everyone – she had a lot of organizations and local people saying ‘how can they do this to her, and I think that galvanized people and it energized her. Maybe it’s happening here.”
Rebovich: Leans Coutinho and Spencer
“Caraballo has high name recognition and a lot of respect, but it’s difficult to win when you’re basically running alone. Certainly booker’s going to get a couple victories there at least.”
Harrison: Leans Coutinho and Spencer
“I think that word on the street is that once Caraballo got dumped, he got dumped – he’s really facing an uphill battle. I read from you guys that Quintana is filing. Will that have any play in incrasing Caraballo’s odds? I think that it’s five days out, I don’t know that it’s going to turn it around.”
Marbach: Leans Coutinho and Spencer
“Off line is a significant disadvantage, so unless you have tremendous name recognition and a big personal organization, it’s very difficult to win, especially if you don’t have any running mates alongside. Just by nature of position on the ballot, Caraballo has a disadvantage.”
District 31 – Democratic Primary – Lou Manzo vs. Sandra Bolden Cunningham
This is a battleground election between the Hudson County Democratic Organization and Brian Stack’s Democrats for Hudson County.
Sandra Bolden Cunningham’s campaign, backed by the HCDO, has been beset by troubles, including the mismanagement of the charitable foundation named after her deceased husband and her former sex offender campaign volunteer. Her strategy has been to tie Louis Manzo to former Jersey City Mayor and current school board member Gerry McCann, who has served prison time for fraud and is currently under investigation for seeking absentee ballot votes at a nursing home.
On Saturday, The Jersey Journal reported that word on the street is that has it that Manzo is slightly ahead, but only one observer PoliticsNJ.com talked to would venture a prediction.
Reed: Toss up
“Does Sandra have everybody behind her who supported her husband, or are there people behind Lou who are really organizing for him, and do all the new people in Jersey City even know that there’s an election going on?…. I’ve been told that you shouldn’t use Byzantine as an adjective because it’s a slur on an important era of history, but whatever it means if you can use it as an adjective, this is it. I just think you don’t know what the new alliances mean in this election, let me put it that way.”
Rebovich: Toss up
“Cunningham’s been hurt by recent publicity, but certainly has strong appeal because of her late husband in Jersey City…. (McCann) can be a problem, but (Manzo) has won before. It’s just so difficult to make sense out of what’s going to happen there.”
Harrison: Toss up
Until the beginning of this, (Sandra Cunningham) was widely respected and, I don’t want to say revered, but kind of admired. So I wonder if there isn’t a little bit of forgiveness after she kind of botched this Russell stuff…. On the other hand people might say it’s a mistake and Lou Manzo is kind of bullying her. I don’t know how that’s going to play out… And is McCann going to be able to turn people out? This will be a fun one.”
Marbach: Leans Manzo
Manzo’s really poised I think to pull an upset here, from what I understand. There’s been a leak that some of his internal polls showed him ahead… .Again, a lot of it will be based on turnout and who can mobilize the voters, but I’ve also seen criticism that Cunningham hasn’t been able to really energize. I was told that she’s acting almost as if it’s her birthright because of her late husband. I don’t know if she took Manzo’s challenges as seriously as perhaps she should have.”
District 33 – Democratic Primary – Silverio “Sal” Vega vs. Brian Stack
Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny’s upcoming retirement has left a power vacuum, and this district is the epicenter of the war between Brian Stack’s Democrats for Hudson County and the Hudson County Democratic Organization. Stack, an Assemblyman and the Mayor of Union City, is fighting Silverio “Sal” Vega, a fellow Assemblyman and Mayor of neighboring West New York. This particularly nasty race has provided plenty of entertainment, but the odds have been “stacked” against Vega all along.
Reed: Likely Stack
“Vega just hasn’t been around enough and in enough positions to touched that many people, while stack has. And I think the parade problem is the kind of problem that candidates don’t want, when you constantly have to be explaining yourself as opposed to talking about what you want to talk about….. I think it would be seen as an uphill battle for Vega.”
Rebovich: Likely Stack
“It looks like Stack is favored to win that nomination.. He has a stronger base in Union City… And Stack seems to have a stronger machine.”
Harrison: Likely Stack
“I do know that Stack does not have an enormous amount of money left, but allof all of these competitive primaries, that one is probably the one we can most likely call. Is that going to matter then in the related races? I’m not convinced that it necessarily will.”
Marbach: Likely Stack
“[Vega] took over for Sires, and apparently their alliance has broken down…. So one would expect, with that kind of endorsement, Stack would likely be the one to win and to move up.”
District 40 – Republican State Senate Primary – Todd Caliguire vs. Kevin O’Toole
Former Bergen County Freeholder Todd Caliguire is facing Assemblyman Kevin O’Toole in this conservative district. Wayne attorney Victor K. Rabbat is also running, but the real show is between O’Toole and Caliguire.
Caliguire, who’s backed by Bergen County Republican Chairman Guy Talarico, is running to the right of O’Toole, attacking him as not being conservative enough. Last week the BCRO even put out a flier putting O’Toole’s picture net to Al Sharpton and insinuating that O’Toole’s assembly seat remained safe for redistricting because he’s part Korean.
O’Toole has the backing of the Essex and Passaic county Republican organizations, which also form part of the district. He’s a well-respected and articulate assemblyman, and is the clear favorite in this race. Some observers question the wisdom of the conservative wing of the party taking on someone who they consider such an effective legislator.
Reed: Likely O’Toole
“In a way, this is similar to the Brian Stack and Vega contest. In primary elections, when you have people in the same party, I think people do look for who has the best set of connections – who’s been successful and deserves to be, in effect, elevated, and I think again Todd Caliguire comes into this with many fewer advantages than Kevin O’Toole.”
Rebovich: Likely O’Toole
“Smart money is on O’Toole, Russo and Rumana. Smart money is on those three against the insurgent Caliguire candidacy…. He has name recognition, a good track record. In some sense he’s like Guy Gregg – very vocal, very staunch advocate of Republican causes and a strong critic of Democratic budget policy in Trenton. My sense is that the ideological charge is a bit off the mark here and that most republicans would know that.”
Harrison: Likely O’Toole
“Again the politics of Proxy…. My thinking is that Caliguire has run so frequently, and O’Toole has really kind of established for himself a close to statewide reputation. Are district voters going to give that up for the unknown, because Talarico says that they should? It has been nasty, and I tend to think that the nasty politics works for the incumbent in this one, but again we’ll see who’s best able to get out the vote.”
Marbach: Likely O’Toole
“I guess most of the district is in Essex county, so that’s O’Toole’s backyard. He was feeling more confident, from what I understand. I guess it’s a three way race too- there’s Rabbat, and he’s supposed to take away some votes from O’Toole, or at least that’s part of the spin. I think that since it’s his own district where he’s been the assemblyperson, O’Toole’s probably going to pull that one out.”