With the 2015 State Assembly race on track to be one of the most sparsely attended elections in recent memory, some are saying that most districts will tread water this cycle, with only the first and second seeing vigorous contests. The GOP’s somersault on LGBT issues following the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality may be one of the Democrats’ few chances to break the inertia state-wide, and Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2) could be among those whose prior voting records will count against them.
Montclair State University political scientist Brigid Harrison said while crickets will most likely be the rule for much of the state this cycle, the first and second districts are seeing “relatively heated races with pretty high-quality challengers.”
With businesses and residents reeling from the damage out-of-state competition has dealt to Atlantic City’s gaming industry, the urgency of LD1 and LD2’s financial situation may drive more voters to the polls. But considering the losses that LD1 and LD2 have suffered in population due to the crisis, Harrison says the districts could be wildcards.
“There were increases in population in South Jersey,” said Harrison of the 2010 census, “but what we know now about South Jersey is that there has been something of an outward migration after the collapse of the gaming industry in Atlantic City.”
Patrick Murray of the Monmouth University Polling Institute indicated that the numbers for how the districts have changed since 2010 and to whose advantage simply aren’t available, saying that despite available estimates “we won’t know until the next census.”
On the issues that might draw swing voters in the historically Republican districts, Harrison said that Governor Christie’s unpopularity could be a useful tool for Democrats. Christie appointed an emergency manager in 2011 who has billed the state $1.7 million without proposing any new policy decisions or development plans, and is suffering in polls across the state.
“To the extent that the Democrats are able to link the Republican challengers to the Christie administration, that would bode well for them,” said Harrison.
Harrison and Murray agreed that districts are unlikely to veer from their voting patterns following redistricting in 2011 and 2012, but some suggested that the GOP’s change of heart on LGBT rights may creep out of the woodwork as a wedge issue — whether to Republicans’ benefit, or to their detriment for lingering ‘no’ votes on past marriage equality bills.
Though Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2) has joined other Republican legislators in New Jersey in proclaiming support for the federal marriage ruling, he voted against New Jersey’s own successful marriage equality act in 2012 and could find himself at a disadvantage because of it.
Hudson County political operative Phil Swibinski called the marriage equality decision’s place in New Jersey voters’ minds “a positive for Democrats, because they were on the right side of history with these issues. You look at the backlash at Scott Garret and if this were six years ago, I don’t think you’d see that so much.”
“I think we’re at a point where having been against marriage equality will hopefully become something of a third rail,” said Garden State Equality’s executive director Andrea Bowen. “So I would not be surprised if you see people using people’s votes against marriage equality against them, because there were people who stood up for it and people who certainly did not.”
“If I were a candidate, I certainly would drag that out,” said Bowen.