Joseph Azzolina (R-Middletown) was a three-term Republican Assemblyman from Middletown in 1971 when reapportionment gave Monmouth County a third State Senate seat. The 47-year-old Navy veteran and supermarket owner had no trouble winning a general election in a contest where all Senate candidates ran countywide. Watergate cost him his seat.
But court-ordered redistricting in 1973 led to the creation of forty individual legislative districts, each with one Senate seat and two Assembly seats. Azzolina’s districts included his Middletown base, but also swing towns on the bayshore and Old Bridge, Monroe and Jamesburg in Democratic-controlled Middlesex County. To challenge Azzolina, Democrats got their top recruit: freshman Assemblyman Eugene Bedell (D-Keansburg), a popular labor leader who had won countywide races for Monmouth County Freeholder. Azzolina was also hampered by the independent candidacy of a three-term Republican Assemblyman, Peter Garibaldi (R-Monroe).
Republicans across the state were badly hurt when two weeks before the ’73 election, President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nothing hurt Azzolina more than the Democratic tidal wave at the top of the ticket. Brendan Byrne carried the new twelfth district by 21,730 votes – a massive 72%-28% margin against GOP gubernatorial candidate Charles Sandman. Byrne won all ten towns in the district; he carried the Republican stronghold of Middletown by 6,241 votes.
In the Senate race, Bedell also won all ten towns, unseating Azzolina by a 59%-35% margin – a plurality of 11,701 votes. Azzolina finished third behind Garibaldi in Monroe and Jamesburg, and lost Middletown by 2,058 votes.