Assessing the state’s winners and losers

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

There are few things political operatives and reporters like more than Wednesday morning quarterbacking the Tuesday election. The Vice Chair of the State Democratic Party Lizette Delgado-Polanco and Republican Strategist Chris Russell joined Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.

Aron: Lizette, let me start with you. What’s your takeaway from yesterday’s election?

Delgado-Polanco: Well, as a Democrat, as you may imagine, we’re very happy. We had an incredible turnout, an incredible victory. Big margins that we did not expect, especially with the late rain which kind of delayed everything. We were a little concerned. We knew that some of the victories, and that we were praying would be double digit victories, but when we saw that rain in the afternoon we were concerned about turnout. But, it turned out to be an incredible night for us, especially in Southern Jersey. I mean Steve Sweeney winning by 20 points is an amazing victory and a resounding victory. Of course, I have to toot the house of labor for that victory because we all came in together to help him. And Vin Gopal, the biggest surprise of the night. His victory over Jenn Beck was a shocker for everyone.

Aron: Chris, your takeaway from this election?

Russell: Well, listen, disappointed of course. It was a tough night for Republicans. Some bright spots Chris Brown down in South Jersey and Atlantic County was a big, bright star and I think all will only shine brighter in the years to come, but a tough night. Listen, we’ve faced a difficult national environment, a governor with historically low approval ratings. People who wanted to change New Jersey, they got it at the top. Democrats are now going to be in charge of all of Trenton, no impediment, and I think in some ways that can be a benefit to Republicans as there’s no blaming anymore from the Democrats in terms of where the state is and its finances and how things go forward. And, if Phil Murphy governs like he campaigned as someone to the far left, I think that’s going to be a benefit to help the Republican party rebuild and remessage here.

Aron: Where was the surprise last night? Morris County almost went Democratic in the Assembly races. Don Guardian in Atlantic City appears to have lost his election. What else was a surprise to either of you?

Russell: Well, I think there are some county difficulties. Burlington County lost two freeholders narrowly, but lost. I mean, it’s a difficult county with more than 30,000 Democrats than Republicans, but thought we can hold on there, Somerset County lost a county clerk and really no pickups really outside of Chris Brown anywhere on the legislative side. So, disappointing just in that I think we thought we could hold our own. I don’t think anyone was thinking about big pickups last night, but hoped to hold our own and fell back a few steps. But again, the epitaphs in politics are written far too soon a lot of times way back.

Aron: Democrats picked up one Senate seat, two Assembly seats. Anything surprise you?

Delgado-Polanco:  Well, actually we really worked on this campaign to really bring it back to the people and make it a grassroots effort all around. So, we were surprised with Frieman.

Aron: Frieman, that’s District 16 in Somerset County, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Princeton?

Delgado-Polanco:  Yes. We were concerned. We were really concerned about it because it is a very mixed district.

Aron: That’s where you picked up an Assembly seat.

Delgado-Polanco: That’s where we picked up an assembly seat, and Andrew Zwicker is going back to the assembly which is amazing in 16. And also in Legislative District 2 with having the victory of Chris Brown as the Senate, the two Democrats winning the seats.

Aron: You picked up an Assembly seat there.

Delgado-Polanco: We picked up an assembly seat there. Yes, absolutely.

Aron: Turnout was only 36 percent. It’s been lower every year since 1993, it goes down and down and down. In Virginia, where there was a governor’s race, they had the highest turnout in 20 years at 47 percent. Why was turnout so low in New Jersey?

Russell: I think one of the reasons is our legislative map is completely unbalanced and there’s so few competitive elections on the legislative side in our state, there’s no reason for people to come out in some of these districts, either Democrat or Republican. So I think one thing that Republicans, I know we need, is a better map in the state, one to compete more on the legislative side.

Aron: But, there was a governor’s race. Wouldn’t they come out to vote for their next governor?

Russell: Apparently not, Michael. And, I think that’s because it turned into an election of partisans and there’s more Democratic partisans than Republican. I think what you would see though helpful to the state, not just politically to Republicans but helpful to the state, are a more competitive legislative map where you can have elections that people are going to be interested in following. They’re not interested in a lot of these elections.

Delgado-Polanco: Well, I disagree because I think that there was a lot more excitement just having gone through so many election cycles in the state. I know that the turnout was low. We did have, like I said before, I think the turnout would have been higher had the weather been [better]. It was pretty brutal towards the end, so that last push, I think if you look at the numbers might have been a factor. But, I think Phil Murphy really did excite after seven and a half, almost eight years, of Christie and Guadagno and I think that he really did excite the New Jersey Democrats to come out and vote. And also the national picture I think excited, the fear mongering that was played towards the end I don’t think worked in New Jersey. It didn’t work in Virginia, clearly.

Aron: We are running out of time, but what is Phil Murphy’s biggest challenge in 20 seconds?

Delgado-Polanco: I think Phil Murphy’s biggest challenge is walking into, it’s not a pretty picture walking into the state and it’s going to be a challenge, but I think we can all come together and figure it out collectively without leaving behind the disadvantaged and taking care of all families in New Jersey.

Aron: Chris, Murphy’s biggest challenge?

Russell: Well, I think Murphy’s biggest challenge is we’ll find out how he works with the Democratic Legislature. He’s going to be asked to do everything that he promised to do and I don’t think he can do it all. There’s not enough money, it doesn’t grow on trees. So, I think the biggest challenge is how he will keep all these people together and does he come out as a centrist, does he try to do things to reach out to Republicans or does he just run a hard left government like he ran a hard left campaign. If he does it, I think he alienates people and two years from now, I think we can see a resurgence for Republicans.

Aron: Chris Russell, Lizette Delgado-Polanco, thank you both very much.

Delgado-Polanco:  Thank you for having us.

Russell: Thanks, Michael.