2013 Battleground: An introductory overview of competitive legislative contests, Pt. 2

LD 14 

General Election: State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) versus former Senator Peter Inverso.

Key Dynamics: Retired since 2007, Republican Inverso is coming back to take on a bellwether district battle-tested incumbent in Democrat Greenstein. Since deciding not to oppose Bill Baroni for Inverso’s Senate seat six years ago, Greenstein has whipped back-to-back GOP candidates in the Christie era: Tom Goodwin in 2010 and Richard Kanka in 2011. Situated close to Trenton, the 14th contains a high plurality of public worker voters who opposed Christie’s overhaul of the state’s public pension and benefits, which Greenstein voted against. A 16-year pro-labor veteran before his retirement, Inverso wants to tap his own cross-over voter base while trying to enjoy the GOTV benefits provided by Gov. Chris Christie at the top of the ticket. He returns to a terrain where the conviction of Republican Mayor John Bencivengo of Hamilton on corruption charges has weakened the GOP.

Key Numbers: 45,732. That’s the number of voting seniors in the district, which LD 14 brand name Inverso wants to make gains.  The other number to look at is 63,823, which is the number of voting women in LD 14, versus 53,487 men. There are also 10,000 more households individually headed by women than individually headed by men.

LD 17

General Election: State Sen. Bob Smith (D-17) versus Franklin Mayor Brian Levine

Key Dynamics: Not many people give Levine a chance to beat Smith, the de facto head of the Middlesex County Democratic Committee and a key backer of gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Barbara Buono’s (D-18). But as in LD 3 with Senate President Steve Sweeney, the GOP wants to keep Smith sufficiently off balance at home to keep him from flexing his muscles in the gubernatorial campaign. It remains to be seen whether the GOP will spend money here or whether it will materialize at all as a truly competitive district.

Key Number: $410,374. That was the cash advantage Smith had over Levine at the time of the last ELEC filing earlier this year.

LD 18

General Election: Open Senate Seat.

Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D-18) versus East Brunswick Mayor Dave Stahl

Key Dynamics: Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-21) attended Stahl’s kickoff, as Middlesex County GOP Chairman Sam Thompson happily welcomed the East Brunswick mayor into the Republican fold from the Democratic Party. They had been planning this one for a while: a coup right in gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Barbara Buono’s (D-18) home district. An attorney from Edison, Barnes does not radiate a Brian P. Stack vibe when it comes to organization building. But the tactic of peeling Stahl away from the Democratic Party has the feel of Fran Bodine 2007, when Democrats wrenched the wounded assemblyman from the GOP and ran him (very unsuccessfully) for the state Senate in LD 8. The one factor in LD 18 that should not be discounted is the fact that Christie won the district when he ran against Jon Corzine in 2009 – a dynamic arguably minimized by Buono’s absence that year from the re-election contest.

Key Number: 30,000. To Republicans giddy over the prospect of a pickup here, that’s the number of registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republicans in LD 18.

LD 20

Democratic Primary: State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) versus Roselle Board of Education President Donna Obe, for Lesniak’s senate seat.

Key Dynamics: The Elizabeth Board of Education spent the last few days juggling a variety of strategies for how to hand Lesniak his toughest fight to date. Up until the 11th hour, many members of the organization remained convinced that newcomer Obe would run on a ticket with former Elizabeth Councilman Tony Monteiro and Assistant Schools Superintendent Jerome Dunn. Trudging into the month trailing a sordid chain of sex emails, Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-20) looked like a sufficiently wounded target, perfect for the Richard Harris treatment in “The Unforgiven.” But the organization brass decided their best chance was to exercise mercy in the case of the embattled assemblyman. They wouldn’t have given a second thought to kicking him while down if he were powerless, but Cryan’s GOTV operation out of Union two years ago gave the Elizabeth Board of Ed trouble. Arguably, Cryan’s geared-up outfit won the election for Lesniak. By not challenging the veteran assemblyman, the Elizabeth Board of Ed gives Cryan a reason not to be engaged in a firefight on behalf of the senator, with whom his relations are currently strained. Although they have every expectation of victory, the Elizabeth Board of Ed also heads into battle this time severely hampered by investigations and indictments wrought by Lesniak’s artful acrobatics in the courtroom.

Key Number: 500 votes. That’s the margin of victory in the City of Elizabeth by the Elizabeth Board of Ed-backed ticket in 2011, even as they lost districtwide. 

2013 Battleground: An introductory overview of competitive legislative contests, Pt. 2