One of New Jersey’s few competitive legislative districts will see a livelier contest than usual when Monmouth County Democratic Chairman Vin Gopal challenges Republican incumbent State Senator Jennifer Beck in November. Attacks between the two started flying immediately after Gopal’s announcement that he will step down as chairman to pursue Beck’s seat.
Though his county slate went down in 2016’s presidential elections, Gopal helped lead Democratic State Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey to a surprise victory in 2015 when they unseated Republicans Caroline Casagrande and Marypat Angelini. Gopal ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly himself in 2011.
Though thickly planted with Republicans, right of center Democrats outnumber them—over half of voters in the district are unaffilliated, with 27 percent registered as Republicans and less than 20 percent registered as Republicans.
In a statement Monday, Gopal said he expects voters to reject what he described as the “selfish backroom dealing of Trenton insiders like Senator Jennifer Beck – who has repeatedly changed her vote on critical issues to serve her own political interests.”
Beck responded in kind by calling Gopal “bought and paid for the Camden County Democrats,” the powerful South Jersey Democratic organization with historic ties to insurance executive and party boss George Norcross. She cited state records that show Gopal receiving nearly $1 million from the Camden County Democrats since taking the chairmanship.
“This is the same Vin Gopal who proclaimed in 2009 that New Jersey had to ‘fight like hell’ to ensure that Governor Corzine was re-elected. Rest assured that Mr. Gopal’s stances on issues are dictated by his political patrons in Camden – not the residents of Monmouth,” Beck said, going on to point out times when she has voted with the Democrats against measures backed by Republican governor Chris Christie.
“I’m proud to have stood up to my party on issues that are important to everyday residents, like my opposition to the billion dollar gas tax hike, opposing the Governor’s book deal and pay raises for the political elite, defending our State’s horse racing industry, opposing fracking, promoting smart guns, voting for marriage equality, and advocating for women’s health funding.”
Senate leadership, meanwhile, came out strong for their respective candidates. Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney characterized Gopal as a strong fiscally conservative candidate, while his Republican counterpart Tom Kean pursued a similar line of attack to Beck’s in a rare public statement.
“Vin Gopal is a small business owner who understands the importance of creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity,” Sweeney said. “He will bring an independent voice who will stand up for what he believes in, even if it means challenging other Democrats on policy issues.”
“Democrat Chairman Gopal is already meeting with party bosses and taking his cues from political insiders from outside Monmouth County,” Kean said. “The voters of the 11th legislative district have rejected his partisan ways once before, and I expect they will do so again with great enthusiasm.”