12th district money scrum leaves GOP in neighboring Assembly races feeling charged up

Yes, Monmouth County has traditionally been Republican.
But it’s been a fickle place in recent times, which went for Al Gore for President in 2000 the same year it gave Jon Corzine a thumbs down in his U.S. Senate bid.

Recognizing the power and popularity of Republican state Sen. Joe Kyrillos and Assemblyman Sean Kean, Democrats are staying away from competing heavily in their districts – at least when it comes to the senate seats.

"I’ve been chairman of the Democratic Party in Monmouth County for 19 years, and I will tell you this – you can’t underrate the value of incumbency," says Victor Scudiery, chair of the Monmouth County Democratic Party. "These guys have their pictures in the paper, and their message in the paper, it’s tough."

Kyrillos is running for re-election in district 13, and Kean is hoping to move up to succeed retiring Sen. Joseph Palaia in the 11th. They both have plenty of money left in the bank for the home stretch – $269,105 for Kyrillos and $175,145 for Kean, relative to their opponents' $14,400 for Democrat Leonard Inzerillo in the 13th district, and $5,960 for Democrat John Villapiano in the 11th, according to state Election Law Enforcement Commission reports.

The Assembly seats below them could be in play – and on the face of it, particularly in the 11th where there are no incumbents, as Kean is vacating his seat to run for senate and fellow GOP Assemblyman Steve Corodemus is retiring.

The race for the 11th district’s two Assembly seats pits Democratic candidates John Pirnat of Brielle and John Napolitani of Interlaken against Republicans Mary Pat Angelini of Ocean and David Rible of Wall.

In the 13th, incumbent GOP Assembly people Amy Handlin and Sam Thompson are looking to withstand Democratic challenges from Middletown School Board Member Pat Walsh and attorney Robert Brown of Old Bridge, who are running with state Senate candidate Len Inzerillo.

Granted, the Dems aren’t dumping money into those Assembly races as they are into the freeholder races, sheriff’s race and the 12th district, where they’re hoping to return Sen. Ellen Karcher to the upper house, Assemblyman Michael Panter to the General Assembly and propel coattails candidate Amy Mallett in to pick up a second Assembly seat.

In addition to securing a win for Team Karcher, the reality is the Democrats would sooner pick up some down-ballot victories to threaten the core of Republican power in Monmouth County than add more warm bodies to the General Assembly, where the party of Democratic Speaker Joseph Roberts already has a comfortable edge, 50-30.

But the 13th and 11th districts on paper aren’t overwhelmingly Republican, by any means. In the 11th Republicans have the edge in money certainly, but not much in numbers: 23,958 to 21, 491. In the 13th the Republicans again maintain just a slight edge in numbers of registered voters: 22,149 to 21,257.
In both cases, Independents make up the bulk of voters: 79,296 of them in the 13th and 69,365 of them in the 11th.
Kyrillos and Kean can lay claim to anchor towns in their respective districts, although Kyrillos’ hometown of Middletown is clearly the lock to the 13th where 42,320 of the district’s 122,702 voters are concentrated. Old Bridge is the next biggest town with almost 30,000.
In the 11th Kean lives in Wall, home to 17,091 registered voters, the largest number in the district – but not by much. Right behind Wall is Ocean – home to Kean’s Democratic opponent, Villapiano, where there are 16,719 registered voters, but not as strongly tied to one party as they are in Wall, where they lean strongly Republican.

Kean’s supporters believe he’s strong enough to pull Rible and Angelini, and he doesn't get too much argument from the other side.

"We expect to take all three seats, in part because of the popular candidate at the top," says Ryan Sharpe, campaign spokesman for Kean’s Shore Team.

The last time a Democrat represented this legislative district was during the era of the Jim Florio tax hike, and that was Villapiano, who served as an assemblyman in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Rible, a locksmith and former police officer whose family has strong roots here on the Shore, is on the ticket in part to bulk up Kean’s home base in Wall. Then there’s Angelini, director of a children’s educational resource center, who has solid name recognition in the district and is expected to deliver votes in her hometown of Ocean.

Of the Democrats – labor leader Pirnat and Napolitani -a teacher in Asbury Park -the latter is better known. His family’s been in the area for years, and he’s a former member of the Interlaken Town Council.

Of course, that also leaves him open to GOP attacks.

"He has a record of raising property taxes," says Sharpe. "As for Pirnat, he doesn’t have much of a record. Frankly, I don’t think either one is very strong."

11th District campaign spokesman James Sverapa IV says, "We have a moral obligation to the people of the 11th district to give them representation, and an alternative to the Republican leadership which has not yielded dividends."

While the money the Democrats are pouring into their toehold 12th district leaves Democrats in the neighboring 11th and 13th feeling like the party’s unloved step children, left to sloganeer without the flow of cash behind their words, Pat Walsh in the 13th has nevertheless been campaigning since December.

As a self-financed candidate, she's not crying about the party not filling her coffers.

The 10-year member of the Middletown Board of Education comes from the district’s biggest town and has a reputation as a school board maverick. Insiders say she’ll have a hard time beating Handlin, who’s also from Middletown and who as a freeholder in 2005, was the district’s top vote getter in the Assembly race as she knocked off Assemblyman Bill Flynn by 3,591 votes, with Thompson right behind her garnering 3,512 votes.
But as she keeps pace in the money game and with her home base of Middletown providing a platform, Walsh may have the best shot – albeit a longshot – at pulling an upset in the 13th, one of two hardluck Monmouth districts for the Dems this season.
12th district money scrum leaves GOP in neighboring Assembly races feeling charged up