Split districts

Six of New Jersey’s forty legislative districts send both Democrats and Republicans to Trenton, and each of those six could do the same after the November midterm election.

In District 1, Republican State Senator Nicholas Asselta faces a challenge from Democratic Assemblyman Jefferson Van Drew in a district that split in 2001 and 2003. Van Drew’s running mate, Nelson Albano (who ousted veteran GOP Assemblyman Jack Gibson two years ago) faces a tough race for re-election. This district could split two different ways: a Senator from one party and two Assemblymen from the other, or each party could elect one Assemblyman.

The same situation exists in District 2, where Republican State Senator James “Sonny” McCullough, who won a Special Election Convention in February following the resignation of veteran powerhouse William Gormley, faces Democratic Assemblyman James Whelan. Republican Assemblyman Francis Blee is not seeking re-election to an eighth term. The two Assembly open seats could go to the same party, or split.

In the seventh district, it appears that all incumbents are strong bets for re-election: Republican State Senator Diane Allen, and Democratic Assemblymen Herbert Conaway and Jack Conners. All three were elected in 1997.

The newest split district is the eighth, where Democrats have not won since John Sweeney (now a Superior Court Judge after a stint as Governor Jim Florio’s Chief Counsel) captured the seat in the 1973 Democratic landslide. Democrats picked up an Assembly seat earlier this year when Francis Bodine switched parties after the Burlington GOP declined to support his re-election. Now Bodine is locked in a seemingly competitive contest for State Senate, and the two open Assembly seats (Assemblyman Larry Chatzidakis, also dumped, is not running) are up for grabs. The eighth could also remain split.

District 12 is the site of the state’s most competitive legislative race: one-term Democrat Ellen Karcher is defending her Senate seat against one-term Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck. The Assembly contest is also expected to be close: two-term Democrat Michael Panter, who was re-elected in 2005 by less than 100 votes, faces a rematch against Declan O’Scanlon. Both could win, but Panter or O’Scanlon could also help pull in their running mates.

The 14th district has been split since 1999, when Democrats Linda Greenstein and Gary Guear ousted two Republican incumbents in a district represented by Republican State Senator Peter Inverso. Inverso’s protégé, Bill Baroni, ousted Guear in 2003 (the only Republican to unseat a Democrat that year), and Greenstein just narrowly held on. Now Baroni looks like a likely winner in a bid for Inverso’s Senate seat, and the Assembly race could go several different ways. Pundits suggest that Greenstein is well-positioned to win a fifth term, and Democrat Wayne D’Angelo could win Baroni’s seat. But Baroni could also help his running mates, Thomas Goodwin and Adam Bushman, take both Assembly seats.

In this district, there is also the somewhat strong possibility that each party could win one Assembly seat, but that Greenstein could lose. That would happen if Hamilton Township, the largest municipality in the district, votes heavily for their hometown favorites – Baroni, Goodwin and D’Angelo. D’Angelo is the President of a labor union that has endorsed Baroni.

Some observers say there is a possibility for a split district in Bergen County, where Democrats are mounting a well-financed and aggressive campaign in District 39 – which hasn’t elected a Democrat since 1977. Their target, longtime Republican State Senator Gerald Cardinale, is taking the challenge seriously, and is raising money; pundits say that a victory by Democrat Joseph Ariyan is less likely that a pickup of one or two Assembly seats – where a pair of veteran GOP incumbents, John Rooney and Charlotte Vandervalk, are fighting to keep their seats against Democrats Esther Fletcher and Carl Manna.

Less likely, though possible, is a split in the eleventh district. Sean Kean, a Republican Assemblyman, is expected to win his Senate bid against former Democratic Assemblyman John Villapiano; while the GOP is favored to hold both Assembly seats (the other incumbent, Steven Corodemus, is retiring), there is an outside chance that the Democrats could score an upset for one or two Assembly seats.

Split districts