The results from Tuesday’s congressional elections in New Jersey were more decisive than two years ago for all of the Democrats and one Republican, but even in districts with smaller victory margins, no incumbent was in danger of losing.
That meant the new Republican map of districts, chosen by the 13th member of the New Jersey Redistricting Commission, did what it was designed to do, and that was not to create more competitive districts or provide an opportunity to bring new blood into Congress.
“There really were no competitive elections, and that was due to the power of the map-making process,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. “Each of the districts was designed to protect the incumbent, or his political party.”
Reflecting population shifts measured by the 2010 U.S. Census, New Jersey lost a seat in Congress. That resulted in the redrawn map approved by the Republican members of the commission and tiebreaker John Farmer Jr., dean of the Rutgers Newark School of Law and a high-ranking member of two GOP administrations.
New maps take toll on Democrats
The map consolidated two districts with Democratic members of the House of Representatives, taking away New Jersey Democrats’ edge in House membership and leaving a 6-6 split between the parties.
According to Tuesday’s results, all six Democrats won larger majorities in the new districts than they did in 2010 under the old district map. The biggest margin went to the only non-incumbent to win: 87.2 percent for Donald M. Payne Jr., who won the open seat in the 10th District, which includes parts of Essex and Hudson counties and is the only congressional district where one party – the Democrats – has a voter registration majority. The seat already had been in Democratic control, held by Payne’s father, who died last March.
Maps create safe districts for both parties
Only one Republican, Rep. Jon Runyan, amassed a larger majority than two years ago – 53.8 percent on Tuesday, compared with 50 percent in 2010, when he unseated one-term Rep. John Adler in the 3rd District in South Jersey in the midterm election that saw the Democratic Party lose control of the House. That race was projected to be the closest in the state ,and it was, but Runyan still easily beat Adler’s widow Shelley by nearly 27,000 votes, or 9 percentage points.
Like Runyan, four other Republican incumbents – Frank LoBiondo in the 2nd, Scott Garrett in the 5th, Leonard Lance in the 7th and Rodney Frelinghuysen in the 11th – amassed majorities in the 50-percent range. Only Rep. Chris Smith ( R-4th) exceeded that, taking 63.8 percent of the vote.
On the other hand, no Democrat won with less than 63 percent – Rep. Frank Pallone in the 6th – and two North Jersey congressmen, Reps. Albio Sires of the 8th and Bill Pascrell of the 9th, got more than 70 percent. Pascrell’s 73.8 percent was higher than what he garnered running in the current 8th District and more than what what Rep. Steve Rothman, running in the current 9th, received over the prior decade. Pascrell beat Rothman handily in a bruising primary to win the right to remain in Congress. He faced a Republican with some name recognition and who, with outside political action committee support, had about as much money to spend, but did not fare as well as prior GOP opponents.
“We ran a vigorous campaign but in the end could not overcome a five-to-one Democrat to Republican registration advantage,” wrote losing candidate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in a column that ran Nov. 7 in The Jerusalem Post. He said the race has made him more cynical about politics. “I’ve discovered that our democracy needs a severe overhaul with Congressional districts that are not drawn up by professional politicians who gerrymander them in proverbial smoke-filled rooms.”
Pascrell’s majority on Tuesday, along with that of Rep. Rush Holt in Central Jersey’s 12th District, was higher than in each of the prior five elections. Holt’s district used to be solidly Republican; in fact, he first won his seat in an upset in 1998. After winning with 53 percent in 2010, Holt polled 68.8 percent this year, making the 12th District solid Democratic territory.
Lance’s majority in the neighboring 7th District makes him the only Republican to win this year with a higher percentage of the vote than the average of the last five elections – 57.7 percent on Tuesday, compared with 54.7 percent for 2002-10. But Harrison said Runyan’s convincing win has put the 3rd District, which used to be considered a swing district, squarely in the “red” camp.
“Since he was able to pull off this win, this year, that is now a solidly Republican district,” Harrison said. “Shelley Adler gave it the best run she could.”
Adler raised more than $1 million and ran an aggressive campaign that included television ads in the district, which has about 10,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. But it was not enough.
U.S. Senate races are always statewide contests
On the Senate side, the Republicans’ chances appear even bleaker in the face of the huge loss by state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez beat Kyrillos by more than a half million votes, taking 58 percent to 40 percent for Kyrillos.
The results did not break New Jersey’s 40–year “blue” streak in the Senate: the state has not elected a Republican to the upper house since Clifford Case in 1972. Menendez won by a larger margin than in the state’s last Senate election, in 2008, when Democratic incumbent Frank Lautenberg beat Dick Zimmer, 56 percent to 42 percent.
In an email to supporters yesterday, Kyrillos said his campaign “endured some bad breaks” that contributed to his loss.
“Hurricane Sandy brought devastation to our state, rightfully took attention away from the election and contributed to a record low turnout for a presidential year. This was particularly pronounced in strong Republican areas and no doubt contributed to Governor Romney’s wider than expected loss in the state,” he wrote.
But Harrison said the reason for the GOP’s losses was more basic — the state’s demographics lean Democratic.
Colleen O’Dea is an editor at large for NJ Spotlight.