Strategists Talk Assembly Race Politics on Election Day

If interest in running for school board seats is any kind of barometer, then it could foretell something about overall voter turnout. With no major race or issue, such as a referendum on the ballot, turnout traditionally suffers. Democratic strategist Bill Caruso and Republican strategist Chris Russell join NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams and Correspondent Michael Hill to discuss today’s election.

When asked how can low voter turnout swing this election, Caruso said, “There’s an old adage that the field wins the election, and the field is already in swing. It’s been going on all day and it’s been going on for weeks in terms of preparation and the ability to pull out pockets of voters that don’t normally come out. In this election that absolutely could change the outcome in several different districts.”

Russell added that, “Independent voters, unaffiliated voters, turnout about 70 percent in a presidential election. They’ll turnout about 15 percent in this election. So this is a race about partisans, and about partisans getting out their partisans, so that’s what these campaigns have been focused on all day.”

Caruso predicts that we’re going to see abysmally low turnout in this election. He says that the amount of money coming in from super PACs could possibly diminish the party boss and suppress voter turnout. “The party boss and the party is always going to be important in New Jersey because we run line elections, so who runs line matters. But the influence of super PACs and this dark money that’s come in has absolutely changed the game in how money’s raised and how money is spent in these elections.”

Russell said that down in the first legislative district Sam Fiocchi and Jim Sarlo are being outspent 10 to one on television advertisements. “It absolutely has an effect. But again with a smaller amount of people coming out, these tend to be, for Republicans which is a good thing, tend to be more educated, more in tune voters. People who can hopefully cut through some of that noise.”

He says that he hopes the votes in district one go along party lines, rather than incumbents, “frankly because there’s more Republicans. I think incumbency is a power in any election. The power of incumbency matters, but in this kind of race when unaffiliates are cut down as far as their share of the vote. You’re looking at a lot of partisans voting.”

Caruso says casinos were a big issue for voters in South Jersey. “Certainly in district two the casinos have been an issue that people have been paying attention to. Property taxes is always going to be a perennial issue, and jobs and the economy track pretty high, as well. But I think in specific districts the issues change, the issues matter. Certainly in district two the casino issue has been very big.”

“The PAC has become an issue,” Russell adds. “The spending itself has become an issue and I think you’re going to see Republicans, I know we have really pushed that. Who do you want to control your Assembly members? Do you want these special interests, this ‘dark money’ as Bill said, or do you want to have people who are more in tune with local issues. So I think the PAC itself and the spending itself has become an issue.

Caruso says that an upset in district 11 is something that Democrats in some ways planned for in legislative redistricting. “I  think that the incumbents are very good people. We werre not able to put these challengers to bed early on in the election process. They allowed them to linger. You’ve seen the PAC money come in late in the game, and I do know there’s a very significant field operation going on to pull Democrats out to vote,” he said.

“I think it’s a competitive election. I think that the attack on Mary Pat Angelini at the end was really an unfair attack. She helps addicts and that’s a counselor heavy job, an employee heavy job. They’re attacking her with something really unfair and I think that can backfire on them,” Russell said. “Of course it’s politics, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t call it unfair and use that as a wedge back. So I think negative campaigning works, I think we agree, but there’s a line and when you cross it there’s peril.”

Russell says that Christie’s relative absense doesn’t really affect anything in this election. “These are local races. The Assembly races, in many ways, are like large mayoral races in these districts. I don’t think that you see statewide issues, especially in south jersey, they couldn’t care less what happens in Bergen County, as long as they don’t get casinos,” he said.

“I think the governor has obviously been preoccupied on his own race, and I think at the national level he’s been there. I think Christie has been an absolute nonfactor in this election. I think they’ll probably be some stories, particularly if the Democrats are able to gain some seats, about how this really is a blow to him. It’s going to hard to make that connection,” Caruso said.