Oct 04, 2023
2nd District election spending light so far this year
Download the App The 2nd Legislative District covering much of Atlantic County has hosted the top-spending race three times since 2001 and ranked in the top five six times, according to the New Jersey
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The 2nd Legislative District covering much of Atlantic County has hosted the top-spending race three times since 2001 and ranked in the top five six times, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
That’s because — unlike in much of the state — both parties have a shot at winning here. While registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, unaffiliated voters make up a larger group than either party.
This year, however, spending has been light so far.
The race pits a slate of GOP incumbents running for reelection for the first time against a Democratic slate of mostly newcomers.
The 2nd District GOP incumbents reported raising about $300,000 as a team for the primary, in which they faced no challengers, said John Froonjian, executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
The incumbents are state Sen. Vince Polistina and Assembly members Don Guardian and Claire Swift, all R-Atlantic.
All three have good name recognition, but they are running for reelection for the first time since upsetting Democratic incumbents in 2021, Froonjian said.
The first attempt at reelection is generally the best time to defeat an incumbent. After that, the incumbent’s advantage can be enormous, he said.
The 2nd Legislative District race for state Senate and Assembly just got more interesting, with Democratic Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick moving up at the last minute to run for Senate against incumbent Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic.
By contrast, former Assembly candidate Caren Fitzpatrick, who is giving up her county commissioner seat to run for the Legislature and moved up to Senate candidate Monday, had raised about $50,000 for her uncontested primary.
Her running mate for the Assembly Alphonso Harrell, a kindergarten teacher and Marine Corps veteran from Egg Harbor Township, had raised about $17,000.
Lesser-known Pleasantville Councilman Victor Carmona was the Democrats’ Senate candidate until Monday, when Democrats announced he was leaving the race and Fitzpatrick moving up to take the top of the ticket.
Carmona had not reported raising any funds, according to papers filed with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
A new candidate, Lisa Bender, of Somers Point, has taken Fitzpatrick’s spot for Assembly, according to a news release from the Atlantic County Democrats.
General election fundraising and spending reports aren’t due until October.
Atlantic County Democratic Chair Michael Suleiman said super PACs, or nonprofits that raise money and advocate for candidates but are not allowed to collaborate with candidates, are likely to spend more than candidates in many races.
If the Atlantic County Democrats have assurances that super PACs will be spending money here, it makes more sense to change the ticket so late in the game, Froonjian said.
“It’s not the best situation to be changing things as you head into the end of the summer,” Froonjian said. “It doesn’t really send a message of stability to donors, unless the plan is for a PAC to come in and spend. That could be the case.”
The William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy and The Press of Atlantic City will sponsor a pair of 2nd Legislative District debates Oct. 19 at the university's Atlantic City campus.
It will be an uphill battle, though, Froonjian said.
“South Jersey and Atlantic County have been trending Republican the last couple of elections,” Froonjian said.
This is Fitzpatrick’s last chance for a while if she wants to run for Senate. The Senate is now a four-year term, versus two-year terms for the Assembly. (The Senate’s term in the beginning of a decade is two years, followed by two four-year terms.)
“If she wanted to run for the Assembly she could have waited two years and run with the gubernatorial race at the top of the ticket, which might be more helpful for Democrats,” Froonjian said.
Atlantic County GOP Chair Don Purdy said he is confident of a party win but isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I feel very, very confident, but ... we are in full campaign mode working hard,” Purdy said. “I know the pulse of people on the street. They are fed up and tired (of inflation and economic pressures). They will be voting with their pocket books.”
Purdy said he expects the 8th District, covering much of Burlington County and Hammonton, Mullica Township and Egg Harbor City in Atlantic County, to also be competitive.
The 8th was the only district to outspend the 2nd in 2021. It too saw a GOP sweep, with state Sen. Jean Stanfield and Assemblymen Michael Torrissi Jr. and Brandon Umba, all R-Burlington, Atlantic, winning.
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Stanfield is not running for reelection.
The 8th District now contains more Atlantic County towns than it did in 2021. Redistricting after the 2020 Census moved Egg Harbor City and Mullica from the 2nd to the 8th, to join Hammonton.
Missing from Suleiman’s list of districts targeted to be flipped by Democrats is the 1st District covering all of Cape May County and parts of Cumberland and Atlantic.
That district is solidly Republican and unlikely to see much spending by Democrats, several election watchers predicted.
It is represented by state Sen. Michael Testa and Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen, all R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic. They were first elected in 2019 and reelected easily in 2021.
“This is the third time out for the Republican team” in the 1st District, said Froonjian. “Voters owe the Democratic candidates gratitude for keeping alive the two-party system, throwing their hats in and running, and giving people a choice.”
The Democrats running are Charles Laspata, of Vineland, for Senate; with Damita White-Morris, of Bridgeton, and Eddie Bonner, of Vineland, running for Assembly.
In the 1st, the fundraising disparity is even greater, with Testa raising about $250,000 for his uncontested primary.
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“As far as I can tell, I don’t think the Democratic candidates (in the 1st) raised anything at all,” Froonjian said.
The 1st was a solidly Republican district for almost 50 years between 1974 and 2002 — with Democrats Ed Salmon and Ray Batten getting elected to just one and two terms, respectively, from 1988 to 1991, Froonjian said.
Democrats began winning when now U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, ran successfully for Assembly and state Senate as a Democrat from 2002 to 2018, Froonjian said, and brought other Democrats in on his coattails.
Van Drew was elected to Congress in 2018 as a Democrat but switched to the Republican Party in 2019 and has been reelected twice since.
REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post
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