By Erin Delmore
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton are closing in on the last stretch of the 2016 campaign. And while most Americans have set up camp in either the blue zone or the red zone, there are a slew of other names they’ll see in the voting booth — state and county-wide offices up for grabs. That’s where the polarity of this election season is taking its toll.
“Whatever office is on the top of the ballot drives that election. We know that the most consequential elections for New Jersey taxpayers are school board elections, right? The lowest of the low in terms of the hierarchy of what you want to go out to vote for. And there are things, there are school board elections in many places on the ballot this November. There are congressional races, there are county races, there are local races, there are two ballot measures. These will have significant impacts on New Jerseyans in the future, much more so than whoever wins the presidency,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Earlier this week, a Republican SuperPAC poured $25 million into six make-or-break Senate races in a last-minute attempt to keep control of that chamber. The Real Clear Politics national polling average over the last week has Clinton leading by five points and an even wider margin in this historically blue state: eleven points. And that has down-ballot Republicans worried.
While low-voter turnout elections typically favor Republicans, Murray cautioned this is anything but. He outlined two possible scenarios. One: Trump supporters read the tea leaves and decide they won’t bother to vote come Election Day thereby wiping out support for other Republican candidates. And, two: Moderate New Jersey Republicans who oppose Trump but feel it’s their civic duty to vote move to Clinton. But they see her polling ahead, and think, “maybe she doesn’t need my vote” and they stay home. It all adds up to fewer votes for down ballot Republicans.
“One county that I’m looking at specifically is Monmouth County where we have a lot of moderate, well-educated Republicans who don’t want to vote for Donald Trump. He’s not going to win this county, but we think this could have an impact down ballot for the Republicans running for Freeholder, Sheriff, surrogate and those kinds of races,” Murray said.
“I’m really concerned that the Republican down-ballot ticket is going to suffer brutally in this election. If the top of the ticket, if Mr. Trump gets wiped out in Bergen County and in New Jersey the down Republican ticket is going to suffer also,” said Bergen County Republican Party Former Chairman Bob Yudin.
Yudin chaired the Bergen County Republican Party for eight years — ousted amid the Trump wave this summer. His stomping ground is the number one place where politicos expect to see a down ballot effect in Congressional District five where Josh Gottheimer is looking to unseat incumbent Scott Garrett.
“Scott Garrett is being tied to Donald Trump with many of the same attacks that have been bringing Donald Trump down that are very unpopular with educated, moderate Republican voters. The kind of voters who live in the northern part of Bergen County,” Murray said.
As one of the only likely Democratic pickups in the Garden State, Gottheimer’s bid for D-5 is garnering national support.
“Out of all the Jersey races going on, electing Josh Gottheimer is probably one of the things I’m investing most of my time in because down-ballot races in Congress matter. I don’t care who you vote for right or left, but vote for the people that are going to bring more dollars back to New Jersey,” said Senator Cory Booker.
While the New Jersey vote count might not be a nail-biter, here’s something to watch: the margin of victory. If it’s a landslide expect the losing party to recalibrate their approach come 2020. If one candidate just eeks out a win, that’s a triumph for the status quo.