In competitive 16th Legislative District, candidates make their final plea

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

Republican incumbent Sen. Kip Bateman talks about the mission of Legislative District 16.

“As you know we have 11,000 more Democrats in our district than Republicans and this is one of the target districts. They’re spending a great deal of money. They’re going to outspend us 3-to-1 because they really think because it’s a split district, that they can win all three seats,” he said.

Bateman is talking about Democrats. A series of events over the last two years weaved an intricate web in this race, and Democrats are hopeful they can leverage the unpopularity of Gov. Chris Christie and President Trump to take full control of the district.

Seats are currently held by Bateman, with a split assembly ticket and Andrew Zwicker, a Democrat, who narrowly ousted former Assemblywoman Donna Simon in 2015. Simon is now looking to retake her spot. Republican Jack Ciatarelli gave up his seat this year to run for governor, but came up short, leaving his spot up for grabs.

It’s the redistricting in 2010 that changed it from being a safe Republican area to more of a swing district, adding towns like South Brunswick and Princeton.

“Losing by 78 votes in a very low voter turnout is something we learned our lesson on how to work harder. Voter turnout is critical,” said Assembly candidate Donna Simon.

That’s why the GOP slate plans to hit 20,000 doors by Tuesday hoping Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire will round out the ticket in the other Assembly seat.

“We represent the district, we represent the entire district and we’re with them on the issues that matter to them,” said Caliguire.

That reference is to attorney Laurie Poppe and former Prudential executive Roy Freiman who are on the Democratic side joining Zwicker.

When asked what they’re doing differently, Zwicker replied, “We’re not doing anything differently. The campaign is based upon a real grassroots effort. We have volunteers coming not just from across the district, but across the state. We have a message that really resonates with people. So it’s doing what we did in 2015, but doing it even more this time.”

“I think the difference between Kip and I is that I have more experience in the mental health issues, and I have a stronger background working with children with developmental disabilities with addiction issues. I’m also an attorney,” said Poppe.

“I was getting more and more frustrated with what I was watching in politics and I was yelling at the television more and more and I decided to do something about it,” said Frieman.

Democrats say they haven’t felt a squeeze with extra resources going down to the 3rd District to help wage the Sweeney versus NJEA battle. But only Tuesday will tell.