Primaries in New Jersey Legislature Heating Up

Besides Virginia, New Jersey is the other state hosting statewide elections this year, with the Governorship, and all the seats in the State Senate and Assembly up for grabs. Democrats are in no danger of losing their majority in either chamber, with the question of a Supermajority being far more open. Meanwhile Governor Murphy is likely to win re-election, a first for a Democrat in New Jersey in decades. Today we are going to talk about primaries, particularly the ones involving incumbents. The most important thing to note is the organizational line, which allows County Parties to let a candidate use their slogan on the ballot and appear in the same column as other candidates with the line, giving them a significant advantage over other candidates, especially in the presence of someone at the top of the ticket. Last year this was Joe Biden & Cory Booker, while this year it is Governor Murphy.

Senator Loretta Weinberg (D), the State Senate Majority Leader, who has represented the Bergen County based 37th district since 1992 in the Assembly and Senate, is retiring this year, and the primary to replace her is going to be one of the most contested legislative primaries in New Jersey in recent years, with the winner all but certain to be elected to the State Senate in November. Both members of the Assembly from this district are running to replace Weinberg, with Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D) receiving the backing of the Bergen County Democratic Party, and the backing of many local Democratic officials in the district, including the Mayor of Hackensack, the largest municipality in the District. Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D), who decided to not contest the organizational line, and challenge Johnson in the primary, has the backing of numerous Unions and organizations including the Communications Workers of America New Jersey, New Jersey Working Families Party, and numerous local elected officials as well. Johnson is probably a favorite due to the power of the organizational line, but if an upset were to happen anywhere in the state, it would be here, with Assemblywoman Huttle being a far more serious challenger then candidates on the organizational line usually face.

Meanwhile the 39th district, also primarily based in Bergen County, is going to have a tightly contested race for an open State Senate seat. Originally, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R), launched a primary challenge to longtime State Senator Gerald Cardinale (R), who had been serving in Trenton since the 1980’s. On February 20th, Schepisi won the organizational line in Passaic County, which makes up a small portion of the 39th District. Sadly, a few hours later, Senator Cardinale passed away at the age of 86. This immediately had a drastic impact on the race as the Senate Seat was open. On March 10th, Schepisi was selected by a convention to fill out the remainder of Cardinale’s term, by only 8 votes over Assemblyman Robert Auth (R). Auth at first, entered the race to replace Cardinale, then dropped out last week, and a few hours later, re-entered the race. Old allies of Cardinale are backing him, as shown by his near win at the convention to replace Cardinale for the rest of the term. Bergen County will likely hold their convention to determine who will get their ballot line within the next month. Auth has previously signaled if he does not get the line, he might not contest the primary, while Schepisi has not shown any signs of dropping out if she does not get the line. Overall, I would consider Schepisi a favorite here, but the narrow margin of the convention shows that she does not have an insurmountable lead.

In the Union County based 20th district, State Senator Joseph Cryan is facing a primary challenge from Assemblyman Jamel Holley. Normally, an Assemblyman challenging a Senator would be a big threat, but Holley is extremely unlikely to win. He was in danger of losing the ballot line for his Assembly Re-Election bid due to anger over anti-vaccination stands he has taken over the past few years, and some of the remarks he has made about the COVID-19 Pandemic. Holley has no major support for his State Senate bid and is unlikely to pose a serious threat to Cryan.

In the Monmouth County based 13th Legislative District, Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R) is likely to lose the ballot line for re-election, following her loss of support from County Chairman Shawn Golden who is backing a challenge to her. The convention is expected to be held later this month, and it is unclear if DiMaso will mount a challenge to keep her seat off the ballot line.

Finally, in the Hudson County based 31st District, Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, who is the Assembly Majority Whip, is in serious danger of losing the ballot line for re-election, at the insistence of the mayor of Bayonne. High ranking Democrats have lobbied against this, including Governor Murphy but the threat is real, and it would not be surprising to see Chiaravalloti lose the line. He has not signaled if he would run off the line.
One last thing I would like to say is that for day-to-day coverage of New Jersey Politics and Elections, I would like to shout out The New Jersey Globe, in part because I interned there in 2019 but also because they provide outstanding coverage of New Jersey politics.