WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
In Trenton, Every Seat Is Up, But Tepid Voter Turnout Expected
Monday, September 26, 2011 - 12:00 AM
Polling shows that New Jersey's long and deep fiscal crisis had more taxpayers paying attention to Trenton's budget dance than usual. But analysts say that doesn’t means New Jersey voters will turn out in November, even though all of the state Senate's 40 seats and the Assembly's 80 seats are up for election.
Peter Woolley, director of Fairleigh Dickinson University Public Mind Poll, said with no statewide race at stake in November, only one in three voters can be expected to turn out.
"They tend to be anemic and especially because they are low on the radar and because the advertising for them tends to be very local and there tends to be a lot of non-competitive districts," Woolley said.
Political analyst Ingrid Reed added Democrats double-digit majority in the Assembly is pretty much bulletproof. But she said the Democrats’ five seat advantage in the upper house is much more vulnerable.
"The Senate really does have the potential of going Republican because the campaigns are so few and the districts can be targeted," she said, "and I think the governor is going to be very active."
New Jersey, Virginia, Louisiana and Mississippi are the four states with state races this November, assuring they will be closely watched as bellwethers for 2012.
Another reason the November election might be worth watching is that due to Census-driven redistricting required by the Constitution 30 percent of New Jersey voters will be casting a ballot in a different district.
In the half-dozen or so competitive races, both parties are likely to make the contest a referendum on Governor Chris Christie's tenure. Both union and business PACS are already heavily invested in the contests.
New Jersey as a bellwether
Reed said that bellwether role for next year's presidential election will likely attract special interest groups and national party money looking to impact the outcome with ad buys. She says that's what happened in the recent state battles in Wisconsin and Ohio between Republican Governors and the public unions over contract and bargaining rights.
"Let's make it in New Jersey so that we can demonstrate that we are on a roll, either way," Reed said. "We have stopped the Republicans bashing labor or look we are getting sensible public sector pay and reducing taxes."
According to the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission, the most expensive legislative race ever was in the 4th District, made up of Gloucester and Camden counties, when both parties blew more than $6 million.
NJ ELEC said since 1999 state legislative candidates have spent $179 million to campaign.
ELEC reports that since the passage of pay-to-play restrictions a few years ago the volume of candidate contributions has leveled off.
"Perhaps due to pay to play restrictions legislators are sharing more of their campaign funds with fellow legislators and depending more heavily on contributions from special interest political action committees," according to an ELEC white paper.
Both Senate and Assembly members are paid $49,000 a year for what is considered by most incumbents a part-time job, but their campaigns costs can run well into six figures.
Some incumbents still hold a second elective office. Back in 2007 a bill banning dual office holding grandfathered members who were holding two posts at the time of the enactment of the double dipping ban.
The voter registration deadline for this year's election is October 18.
Senate races to watch include:
- The 2nd District in southern Jersey where Democratic incumbent Senator Jim Whelan faces Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina.
- The 14th District that includes portions of Mercer and Middlesex counties where Democratic incumbent Linda Greenstein is facing a strong challenge from Republican's candidate Richard Kanka who earned a national reputation for getting Megan's Law passed after his daughter was murdered by a convicted sex offender.
- The 27th District where former Governor and Senate President Richard Codey has been going to door because his district was re-drawn to include some of the state's most Republican towns. Now it is composed of portions of Essex and Morris Counties. He faces GOP pick William Eames from Whippany.
- The 38th District includes portions of Passaic and Bergen Counties. Their former Fair Lawn Mayor and veteran Democratic state Senator Robert Gordon faces Republican Bergen County Freeholder Chairman John Driscoll.