Election Results Reflect ‘Christie Effect’

November 12, 2017
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Victorious Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Murphy, accompanied by his son, casts his vote in his hometown of Middletown on Election Day. Photo Bob Karp / Pool

By John Burton |

Democrats won a high-profile legislative race and picked up municipal seats in Tuesday’s election, but it was the Republicans who continued to have a strong showing elsewhere in Monmouth County, seeing some upsets but retaining most of the offices.

The gubernatorial election – as pundits and polling have been foretelling us for months – had Democrat Philip Murphy, a Middletown resident, winning with a comfortable margin of about 13 percent statewide, defeating Monmouth Beach’s Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate and Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor. But in Republican-strong Monmouth County, she had a better showing than Murphy with an unofficial count of 100,989 votes, or 54.99 percent, as of Wednesday, according to the Monmouth County Clerk’s Office. Murphy tallied 78,940 or 42.98 percent of the unofficial vote.

The 13th Legislative District continues to remain in GOP hands with state Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon winning the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Joseph Kyrillos Jr. at the end of his current term in January. O’Scanlon defeated Middletown resident Sean Byrnes 34,782 to 28,353 unofficial votes. On the Assembly side, incumbent Amy Handlin and County Freeholder Serena DiMaso secured victories over Democratic opponents Tom Giaimo and Mariel DiDato.

For county freeholders, voters returned incumbent Republican Lillian Burry and elected Patrick Impreveduto over Democratic challengers Brian Wilton and Margie Donlon.

The race for the 11th District caused the biggest news of the evening for the county body politic with the victory of Democrat Vin Gopal over incumbent Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck. Voters also returned freshmen Democrats Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling – who defeated GOP challengers Michael Whelan and Robert Acerra – to the Assembly for the district.

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These races and others around the state represented “Less a blue wave and more of a red retreat,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Robovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University.

“Chris Christie was not on the ballot but he might as well have been,” Dworkin said, believing the unpopular Republican governor (with an approval rating continuing to hover around 15 percent for the last six months), helped suppress GOP turnout, especially for Guadagno, but also for some down-ballot candidates. “And a majority of voters clearly didn’t want to have anything to do with the Christie Administration at all,” Dworkin said.

Dworkin pointed out that Christie, in the 2009 election against Democrat incumbent Jon Corzine, garnered roughly 129,000 votes. After that election, Christie would say when he appeared in Monmouth County that the county made the difference in carrying him to victory.

Compare that to what Guadagno won on Tuesday: a little more than 100,000 votes. “You didn’t have the huge margins to make this competitive,” said Dworkin.

Dworkin said this was true around the state, with Democrats who were expected to lose doing so by considerably tighter margins than anticipated.

“The combination of a very unpopular Christie and an unpopular Trump meant that Republican turnout was diminished because the Republican base was diminished,” said Dworkin.

Republican President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in New Jersey likely has contributed to Democrats’ better showing all down the ticket, suspected Patrick Murray, founding director of Monmouth University Polling Institute. “What we saw here in New Jersey we saw in Virginia (which also had a Democrat win the governor’s race) and saw across the country,” Murray said.

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“We saw Democrats out-performing in a whole host of races,” he continued. He said of the Trump effect, “This is a sea change” on the political landscape.

“They simply didn’t have the enthusiasm,” Dworkin said of Republican voters this time.

This article was first published in the Nov. 9-16, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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