Abortion, parental rights, and offshore wind are big issues in the New Jersey election this year

Although experts predict a low turnout at the polls, New Jersey candidates and voters are focused on several key issues this November.

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New Jersey voter casts ballot

A New Jersey voter casts his primary ballot in person at Sam Naples Community Center in Trenton. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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This year’s election in New Jersey does not include any state races, but every state senator and assembly representative is up for re-election.

Ashley Koning, the director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University, said while affordability and property taxes are always hot topics in the Garden State,  the candidates are also talking about other issues that voters seem passionate about.

“For the Republican side we’ve seen a really big focus on parental rights, and on the Democratic side we’ve seen a big focus especially in these last weeks and months on the issue of abortion,” she said.

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Koning noted that even though New Jersey has “some of the best provisions in the country” when it comes to reproduction rights, The United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year removed the constitutional right to abortion. Since then, a growing number of states across the country are limiting access to abortion.

Dan Bowen, an associate professor of political science at the College of New Jersey, said another issue in this year’s campaign is offshore wind farms.

“There have been groups that have pushed back against offshore wind farms that have been pushed by the Murphy administration for several years, but this summer there have been a spate of beached whales and dolphins along the Jersey shore and now opponents to the wind farms have linked these two issues,” he said.

Turnout projections

According to Ben Dworkin, the director of the Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship at Rowan University, because the legislature is at the top of the ticket, there will be a low turnout at the polls.

“We’re looking at 27% to 28% of registered voters casting ballots this year,”he said. “When you have a low turnout election, each side, both the Democrats and Republicans focus on ginning up support, agitating and getting their base voters to the polls.”

For the past 20 years the Democrats have controlled the New Jersey Legislature , which means they have the power to control what bills are considered in committee and voted on by lawmakers. Bowen noted this year’s election is a bit unpredictable because it is the first election with the newly drawn legislative districts since the 2020 census.

Toss up races

Koning said one of the closely contested races could be the 3rd District race, where incumbent Republican Ed Durr, who upset long-time Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney two years ago, is being challenged by Democrat John Burzichelli, a former member of the assembly.

Koning said this has turned into one of the nastiest races “given the kind of mud-slinging back and forth that the two candidates have recently done.”

Durr, who supported bills to limit abortion and expand gun rights, has accused Burzichelli in ads of “moonlighting as an X-rated movie producer.” The Burzichelli camp has blasted Durr for making insensitive remarks on women’s reproductive rights.

In addition to the 3rd District race, Dworkin said other competitive races may include District 4 in Camden County,  District 11 in Monmouth County, where the state senator is a Democrat and the assembly representatives are Republicans; District 16 (in the Mercer, Somerset County part of the state) where Republicans have traditionally been in control but Democrats have recently been elected; and Bergen County’s 38th District, where parental rights is the hot issue.

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“These races are going to be very close, and it won’t be surprising if either side wins,” he said.

Dworkin pointed out that there is no public polling on these races.

“So everything is a little bit of a gut instinct,” he said.

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