This is the last election under the 2001 New Jersey legislative district reapportionment, which ultimately resulted in the transformation of the 22nd, 34th, and 38th Districts from Republican to safe Democrat. Subsequent political campaign developments in this decade have resulted in the formerly Republican 3rd, 4th, and 36th districts becoming safe Democrat domains. While the 12th District was a battleground district in the 2003 and 2005 elections, it is now safely under total Republican control.
There are two Districts with a Republican Senator and two Democrat Assembly members (7th and 14th) and one with a Democrat Senator and two Republican Assembly members (2nd). In these three districts, it is a near certainty that neither party will capture a seat held by the other. In fact, this “safe status” is true of every district in the state, with the possible exception of one district: the 1st District, consisting of all of Cape May County and portions of Cumberland and Atlantic counties.
District 1 has a Republican registration edge, but a highly popular incumbent Democrat Senator, Jeff Van Drew, who is not on the ballot in this election but whose popularity is a key asset in the effort of the incumbent Democrat Assemblymen, Nelson Albano and Matthew Milam to defeat Republican challengers Michael Donohue and John McCann. The Democrat incumbents also enjoy a considerable financial advantage, which will be manifested next week in terms of television advertising.
Nevertheless, Donohue and McCann are mounting a serious and effective challenge to the incumbents. They have the benefit of two seasoned and highly effective professionals in Evan Kozlow, the campaign general consultant and Bill Pascoe, the campaign media strategist. While Donohue and McCann are definite underdogs, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for one or both of these Republican challengers to score an upset victory.
It is unusual in a gubernatorial year for there to be only one seriously contested legislative district in the entire state. Yet this fact is graphic evidence of perhaps the most serious challenge facing the Republican Party in New Jersey: the need to secure a more favorable legislative district map in the reapportionment scheduled for 2011.
If Chris Christie defeats John Corzine next Tuesday, it will be due to the unpopularity of the incumbent Governor. For the NJGOP to regain the level of strength and effectiveness it had in the 1990s, however, it will be necessary for the party to recapture one or both houses of the legislature during the next decade. To attain this goal, Republicans must secure in the 2011 reapportionment process a far better map than that approved by the tie-breaker, Larry Bartels in the 2001 reapportionment process.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.