The reality is there are only two (semi) competitive primary districts and three competitive general election districts this year. The rest of the results are set in cement.
So we prefer to examine potential district changes in two years and how they might impact the fast-developing 2017 race for governor and the makeup of legislative leadership in the epoch after Gov. Chris Christie.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy are all jockeying to succeed Christie.
There may be others.
Keep in mind that legislators – driven by their own ambitions, not those of a handful of rivals running for governor – will mostly want love not war and will do everything possible to avoid conflict. Such a predilection for peace means that those gubernatorial contenders not on the line will face a serious challenge when they try to summon allies for tickets and attempt to coax split tickets and war.
The 2017 wildcard is the potential impact of independent expenditure political action committees (PACs) on New Jersey politics, and whether the presence of a PAC sufficiently connected and aggressive can indeed disrupt the slumber of the establishment and reconfigure a district. That question makes what is happening right now in Morris County, for example, especially interesting.
Below find a district-by-district examination of the main political dynamics. Note that we’ve included the principals’ most recent cash reserve filings, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC); numbers that provide only a snapshot in time and that should not – particularly in an IE world – be read as conclusive about anyone’s career two years removed from 2017…
LD2. D. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo has to accomplish in 2 what Andrzejczak does in 1. He has to look like someone who can shoulder the district and carry it into the future. Democrats have spent the last year making Andrzejcazk and Mazzeo look like the Gilbert and Sullivan of legislation-writing, two parlor room geniuses as devoted to lawmaking as Lennon and McCartney were to generating hit songs. Whether that will soak in off the glossy mailers in a financially-besieged Atlantic City-dominant district is a curious general election question. In any event, sources have told PolitickerNJ that establishment Democrats had to persuade incumbent state Senator Jim Whelan (D-2) ($16,400 cash on hand, as of April, according to ELEC) to come off his stool for a reelection run in 2013. That kind of murmoring has made it difficult to picture the veteran Whelan running again in 2017. He may be one of two or three incumbent Democrats down south who do not pursue reelection. Based on what we’ve heard from sources now for some time, Whelan’s less likely to go again than Van Drew. If either Van Drew or Whelan decides not to go, the other will look like a hero if he runs.
LD3. D. If state Senate President Steve Sweeney ($935,552 cash-on-hand, according to ELEC) runs for Governor it will presumably be time for Burzichelli to step up and shoulder the district. Maybe only as a placeholder, depending on Sweeney’s interest in reelection. If Sweeney loses a primary for governor, he could always return district-wide in time for the general election. Our guess is that short of a repeat as senate prez, Sweeney won’t want to return to the legislature and will eye other possibilities: a vacant U.S. Senate, for example, or the congressional seat currently belonging to U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) if Norcross moves up to claim the statewide senate seat.
LD4. D. State Senator Fred Madden ($40,340 cash on hand). Similar buzz heard around Van Drew and Whelan dogs the veteran chairman of the Senate Labor Committee. They could all end up running again one last time with Senate President Sweeney atop the ticket and then swapping out post Election Day. But if Madden leaves, look for Assemblyman Paul Moriarty or Assemblywoman Gabriella Mosquera to make a move.
LD5. D. Expect to see Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez (COH NA) sit there as long as she’s needed.
LD6. D. If Senator Jim Beach ($33,191 cash-on-hand) doesn’t want to run again, the Democratic-leaning district will be in safe hands with Greenwald.Of Course, Greenwald wants to be governor, or at least speaker, not one of 40. But state senator may be the 2017 move that makes the most sense, and not a bad one either if he could step into the senate president’s chair. Greenwald – and a promoted Burzichelli and/or Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7) must all be considered senate presidency material in the event that South Jersey maintains (even if somewhat reconfigured) a voting bloc that forces other regions to the negotiating table. If the governor comes from the north, for example, the south conceivably could have a play in forwarding U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross for U.S. Senate, or – and this makes more sense from a statewide power standpoint – maintaining the senate presidency. If sitting Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) gets the nomination for governor, he will do so by pulling Essex, Bergen and Hudson with statehouse prizes. That means Vincent Prieto and/or Gary Schaer for Speaker of the Assembly and state Senator Paul Sarlo and/or M. Teresa Ruiz or Nia Gill for Senate President. But if the south can’t get the governorship, it will consolidate power for a repeat of domination in the legislature, and that starts with the senate presidency. That puts freshmen Burzichelli, Greenwald and Singleton (along with, presumably, the right of first refusal by Jeff Van Drew and Jim Whelan) in the mix as potential senate presidency successors to Sweeney.
LD7. R. People expect Republican Senator Diane Allen (above) ($163,204 cash-on-hand) to retire. If she does, that sets up the ultimate gladiatorial spectacle in a Democratic Primary between Assemblymen Herb Conaway and Troy Singleton. A South Jersey Democratic victory here could either put a garnish on top of an existing voter bloc, or be the crucial win Norcross needs to maintain a display of power. If, for example, Democrats can’t hold onto 1 or 2 or 4, a pick up in 7 would offset the loss and show a seamless power flexing northward. This is the one South Jersey district where a bloody primary is likely. Those anti-establishment gubernatorial contenders won’t want to rile machine politics farther south by repeating on a Democratic Primary scale the mistake Tom Kean, Jr. made in 2013 when he riled Sweeney-land. But LD7 is different. Presumably Singleton – wired into the Building Trades – will get the establishment line. But the veteran Conaway has his own base and a very credible runway upward alongside a gubernatorial contender. If the rest of South Jersey largely slumbers during a Democratic Primary, look for this district to erupt. Keep an eye on Singleton in any event, as either a statewide possibility and conceivably South Jersey’s most obvious choice if Sweeney decides not to run for governor, or as senate president or LG.