By Pete Guzzo, AFTNJ Government Affairs Specialist

Governor Chris Christie and all 120 State Legislators (40 Senators and 80 Assemblypersons) are up for election on November 4, 2013. There are no federal elections for U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives in the 2013 election in New Jersey (Congressional elections are held in even-numbered years and State elections are held in odd-numbered years).

A referendum to increase the minimum wage with an annual cost-of-living adjustment is on the ballot. Many potential Democratic and independent voters who might otherwise have not voted could be drawn to the polls to support the question.

New Jersey and Virginia have the only Governor’s races this year. This means both the National Democratic Committee and the National Republican Committee will be able to pour considerable sums of money into the New Jersey Gubernatorial election.
National Republicans–at least those that support Christie–will want to see him win big in order to enhance his shot as the possible Republican candidate for president in 2016. On the other hand the Democrats’ goal is to defeat Christie or at least make it a close election so as to:
1. hamper or halt his ascension as a possible Republican candidate for president in 2016, and
2. prevent a Christie landslide which could spur coattail Republican gains in the New Jersey State Legislature.

Governor Christie is starting the campaign with a 70 percent approval rating due mainly to his handling of Superstorm Sandy. But his approval rating drops considerably when New Jersey residents are asked how they rate the Governor on the economy and his vetoing of funding for family planning clinics, along with his veto or opposition to:
• the increase in the minimum wage,
• tax credits for low-income workers,
• and fair taxes for millionaires.
Also looming is the failure of the Governor’s optimistically projected economic growth rate–somewhere in the neighborhood of 8%–which will most likely lead to the Governor’s budget (to be presented February 26) resulting in cuts (or a flat budget) for many government service funded programs, including education. Additionally, the Governor’s approval rating for handling Sandy could gradually turn to disapproval if the restoration of the hard hit areas is lagging by election day.

Most pundits expect that by the Fall Christie’s lead will be in the area of 5 to 6 points which means the Democratic candidate (presumably Senator Barbara Buono will be within striking distance of winning. A Democratic win will depend on the Democrats raising the funds necessary to run a campaign that both presents Senator Buono to the public (name recognition is the first step in a campaign) and portrays Governor Christie’s weaknesses. Additionally, the Democrats will need to hold their traditional base of public unions, minorities and women voters. Democrats do have a 700,000 edge over Republicans in terms of registered voters but the independent voters are significant.

Christie’s big advantage in fundraising will give him a financial advantage (However, it should be remembered that Corzine outspent Christie almost 2 to 1). Additionally, Christie has been effective at reaching across the aisle and out to traditionally Democratic constituencies. He has already captured the endorsement of the Laborers’ International Union, the Port Authority Police local union and several Democratic elected officials. It is expected that Buono will find support among public unions, while Christie will continue to win support among trade unions because of his support for tax breaks for casino projects in Atlantic City and the American Dream Meadowlands project–all private sector job construction initiatives.

The current make-up of the New Jersey State Legislature is as follows:
• in the Senate there are 24 Democrats and 16 Republicans;
• in the Assembly there are 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans.
With all 120 members up for election, the Republicans would need to pick up 5 seats in the Senate to gain control and 9 seats in the Assembly to gain control. Early polls show that while Governor Christie has a high favorability number New Jersey residents still favor a Democratic controlled legislature. This is a reflection of a number of factors.

First, Governor Christie’s favorability is across the board at this time–that is, in addition to Republicans, there are Democrats and Independents who also support him. But the majority of Democrats who support Christie, and most likely many Independents, do not transfer this support to Republican legislators.

Second, owing to the recently adopted legislative redistricting map that strongly favors Democratic legislators among the 40 legislative districts, one can say that (at least at this time) Governor Christie does not have coattails to carry enough Republican legislative candidates into office for the Republicans to take control of both or even one chamber.

This is not to say there will not be some close legislative elections.
• In District 1 (Parts of Atlantic and Cumberland Counties and all of Cape May County) the three Democratic incumbents, Senator Jeff Van Drew and Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam, will face a challenge, as they have in the past. This is considered a swing district. The current Congressman from this area is Frank LoBiondo, a Republican.
The same goes for District 2 (Parts of Atlantic County). The current State Senator is Jim Whelan, a Democrat. The two Assemblymen in this district, John Amodeo and Chris A. Brown, are Republicans.
• District 7 (Parts of Burlington County) is actually a split district, with a Republican Senator, Diane Allen, and two Democratic Assemblyman, Herb Conaway and Troy Singleton.
• District 14 (Parts of Mercer and Middlesex Counties) has always been a swing district. The current legislators are all Democrats: Senator Linda Greenstein and Assemblymen Dan Benson and Wayne DeAngelo.
• In District 36 (Parts of Bergen County) the three legislators are all Democrats: Senator Paul Sarlo and Assemblypersons Gary Schaer and Marlene Caride.
• In District 38 (Parts of Bergen and Passaic Counties) the three Democratic legislators are Senator Bob Gordon and Assemblypersons Timothy Eustace and Connie Wagner.

Republicans would have to win every seat in these 6 districts (5 Senate seats and 9 Assembly seats or at least several of them and then pick up other seats elsewhere) to take control of the Senate and the Assembly. While anything is possible, this has to be considered a long shot.

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