New Jersey with Governor Christie

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC senior reporter Bob Hennelly reports on altered state politics in New Jersey, now that Governor Christie is no longer on the national stage.

Having said the final “no” to pursuing the presidency, New Jersey governor Chris Christie can now turn his full attention to another matter – New Jersey state elections which may prove to be a referendum on Christie’s performance as governor so far.

The entire state legislature – all forty state Senate seats and all eighty Assembly seats – are up for grabs November 8th.

Bob Hennelly said Christie’s recent time in the national spotlight has not necessarily been good for Republicans in New Jersey.

I think it’s created a lot of anxiety…had Christie taken the dive and put his ambition above his state position as a governor it would have given the Democrats actually an ability to peel off some individual Republicans in the legislature to override vetoes. Now that Christie has made a decision to stay home, so to speak, it means there will be more party discipline, surely.

As things stand now, Democrats have a double digit majority in the Assembly but just a five-seat lead in the Senate. Hennelly asked Christie if he thought this election would be a referendum on his policies and Christie said no, it would be a referendum on the candidates on the ballot.

Politics, like budgeting, is about managing expectations. So what he’s doing is he’s dialing back the expectations.

Hennelly pointed out that this will be the first election since the redistricting required after every decade’s census.  In New Jersey there were a few major developments as a result of redistricting. One was that population gains were less than in the rest of the country, causing New Jersey to lose a congressional district. The other was a shift in population density and demographics, with the Latino population growing faster than other categories, so the new district maps had to reflect that.

As a result, about thirty percent of voters will be walking into a polling place where there will be new names on the ballot, but unfortunately we expect the turnout to be pretty tepid—around thirty percent.

One race to watch will be the 38th Senate district, which encompasses parts of Bergen and Passaic counties. Democratic incumbent Senator Robert Gordon faces Republican Bergen County Freeholder Chairman John Driscoll.

Bergen County is a real bellwether in terms of being able to win a statewide contest.

That county has recently seen a lot of political turnover due to corruption issues among Democrats, allowing the Republicans to make some inroads, so it may make for a close race.

Another district that should play out interestingly is the 27th district, where former governor and former Senate Democrat Richard Codey faces Republican William Eames.

Codey was thrown to the wolves a little bit... he was given six Republican Morris county towns, so now former Governor Codey may be walking door-to-door in those towns to try to get some support.

Hennelly said the most important thing to know is that each district is very different “like a snowflake.’

In the Twelfth District, Jennifer Beck, a Republican elected in 2007 in an intense race where she defeated the incumbent Democrat despite being dramatically outspent. This time, Hennelly said, Beck faces a Democrat Ray Santiago, a Puerto Rican self-made business-success from Brooklyn.

That’s a circumstance where he may be able to animate Latino voters in that district in a way that hasn’t happened before so the Democrats may actually be able to pick up one there.