The 2018 New Jersey Primary is underway. Polls are open until 8 p.m. Registered Democrats and Republicans and Independents willing to declare a party affiliation at the polls are choosing their party nominees for Congressional races that could sway the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. To help us walk through who some of them are and what’s at stake, we were joined by Republican Strategist Dale Florio, Democratic Strategist Chris Donnelly and Fairleigh Dickinson University Political Science Professor Dan Cassino.
Hill: First question, Dale let me ask you this, which of these races are you watching and tell me why.
Florio: Well, I’m looking at the Hugin, Menendez race for the U.S. Senate because I’m looking to see what the enthusiasm level might be for the incumbent, Bob Menendez. I think that’s critical.
Hill: Alright Chris how about you?
Donnelly: I think Democrats are looking at all of the races in which the current incumbent Republicans are retiring, Republican congressmen, because as you mentioned we have a chance to take back the House in November and every seat could be possibly up for grabs.
Williams: What have you gentlemen been hearing about voter turnout and what could that telegraph for people’s enthusiasm in November in terms of voting?
Cassino: Well, last time Bob Menendez was up for election, the primary in 2012 there were 235,000 votes cast on the Democratic side, about 170,000 on the Republican side. We’re going to expect that number to go up pretty dramatically this year mostly driven by these competitive House races in New Jersey’s 2nd, 5th, 9th and 11th Congressional districts.
Hill: And when you start talking about party support in a state like this at this particular time, what has driven some of the parties to support the candidates they have chosen to support?
Cassino: We’re actually seeing a lot of division within parties in some districts, something especially in New Jersey’s 5th Congressional district. Republicans might be blowing a chance to pick up a seat by nominating someone that can’t win in November. We’re seeing a similar thing happening in the 11th Congressional district where we got a very conservative Republican against a moderate and the difference between the primary electorate and a general electorate is going to be a huge problem for Republicans in some of these districts going forward.
Hill: Chris same question for you.
Donnelly: Well, I think on the Democratic side, there’s a lot of excitement because in all the districts that you look at where there’s potential to take back a Republican seat, you have extremely qualified Democratic candidates. So, I think regardless of what the outcome in those districts are tonight, what’s going to emerge is a slate of incredibly qualified, viable candidates who have a chance to win back any and all of those seats.
Florio: And they’re going to need qualified candidates because the incumbents that the Republicans have in those districts are very strong. They been for a long time. I know the Democrats are hoping that there’s an anti-Trump wave this year. But, you have candidates in incumbents there who have disagreed with the president when they felt they needed to disagree. So, it’s not what the Democrats think it’s going to be.
Williams: Have the candidates who are primarying sitting Representatives and even those, for instance, in the 11th district, which is an open seat, are you seeing them pushing candidates more toward the center or more toward the progressive or conservative wings of their parties?
Florio: Well I mean in the 11th district, where there’s a Republican primary to replace Rodney Frelinghuysen, there is the spectrum of candidates. We have some of what I would call moderates and more conservative candidates. So, we’ll see what happens tonight, but that district is a Republican district. They’re likely to nominate a very capable Democrat, but it is a Republican district.
Cassino: There’s also the issue of this enthusiasm biting back against Democrats a little bit. If we go over New Jersey’s 2nd district down South Jersey there is a very conservative Democrat and he’s got 100 percent rating from the NRA. He’s not what a lot of people would call a strong Democrat. Except he’s got three liberals running against him, they’re going to split the vote and he’s going to walk into the nomination tonight.
Hill: Let me ask you this, Dale you mentioned Trump. What impact will Trump have on these races do you think?
Florio: We have to see when we get into October. There was a lot of anti-Trump sentiment. I think we sense that it’s evening out a little bit around the country and you really can’t tell. Much like Gov. Murphy will be very much in focus for Republicans next year during the midterm election. So, you really have to see when we get in September and October to see what impact it truly will have.
Hill: Chris are you seeing any impact? Is this motivation?
Donnelly: Yes, I think it’s undeniable. History shows that the midterm elections for a president’s first term, regardless of party, is always a sort of referendum on the president themselves and clearly President Trump is not a popular person in the state of New Jersey. He lost here by a large margin. He’s been around 30 percent approval rating. I don’t see how he is not a factor in moving forward especially given what we have seen from the administration in the last year and a half and how badly New Jersey has fared under this Administration and this Congress.
Williams: Have you seen the major parties focusing as they have in California on New Jersey this year by putting money behind candidates?
Florio: Well without a doubt. We’ll see more of it come the fall. I mean really the preferred candidates by both the Republicans and the Democrats are not really being challenged to a large degree in the primaries. So, people are withholding funds. The only person whose really spent any kind of money is Bob Hugin because he’s already put $20 million of his own money into the race.
Cassino: The other issue is if I’m the Democratic party or the Republican party, I’m not sure I want to spend a lot of money in New Jersey because for the cost of one Congressional seat in New Jersey, I can get five Congressional seats in Oklahoma. It’s just a real expensive race to run. There’s been a lot of money coming in, but it’s not been the national party money.