November may seem like a long way off for the average person. But Arlene Quinones Perez, Hunterdon County Democratic Committee chairwoman, is already hard at work. So are her counterparts, both Republican and Democrat, in counties throughout the state.”I don’t think people realize the time commitment,” Quinones Perez said.
Chairs such as Quinones Perez, who head up the minority parties in their counties, may need to bring an extra level of dedication to the table. With voting districts in New Jersey heavily gerrymandered to favor one party or the other, the chance of displacing the majority party in a county, state or federal race is slim. Republicans outnumber Democrats in Hunterdon County by 4-1. Still, she’ll put in the hours and the effort.
10% Democrats39% Republican40% Unaffiliated
“Now is the time for county party chairs to find candidates, who need to get elected in the June 2 primaries in order to run as major party candidates come November, and assist them through the process of getting nomination petition signatures in time for the March 30 submission deadline.”
It’s important to her that she gets more people involved in the process, more women especially. “I enjoy helping,” Quinones Perez said.
According to Ben Dworkin, director of the the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, minority party members in a given New Jersey county definitely face an uphill battle. In addition to the inherent challenge of competing in an area where the district map is drawn to their disadvantage, they’re also facing the fact that state or national party organizations aren’t going to invest a lot of money in a political race they’re likely to lose in the end. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Dworkin said.
Still, no matter how steep that uphill battle may be, it’s not necessarily unwinnable in the long run. Mercer County, for example, was Republican-dominated territory in the 1990s. Now it’s under Democratic control.
Minority parties looking to gain the upper hand are wise to start at the local level, Dworkin said, in races such as city council or school boards. A county may be heavily Republican. But if the largest city in that county is under Democratic control, Republicans can’t afford to shut out the opposition altogether. “It starts at the grassroots,” Dworkin said.
Dworkin said that a minority party that wants to change its status needs four factors working for it: demographics, leadership, money and issues. “You need all of those to really make it happen,” he said. Canny use of technological tools can help as well. Democrats in Indiana, widely considered a red state in 2008, used Internet meetups to organize and deliver their state for Barack Obama.
“Every county is different, that’s the other thing,” Dworkin said. “It takes an extended period of time.”
Regardless of her party’s prospects for short-term success in Hunterdon County, Quinones Perez has no intention of slacking off as her extended political season starts heating up.”We want to engage individuals who support what we’re doing,” she said.
Facts about Hunterdon CountyPopulation: 126,250
RaceWhite 92%Hispanic 6%Black 3%Asian 4%
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