N.J. voters to pick Assembly nominees in Tuesday’s primary

New Jersey State Capitol building in Trenton. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

New Jersey State Capitol building in Trenton. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

New Jersey primary voters will decide whether an incumbent who lost Republican Party support but who casts himself as a strong supporter of President Donald Trump can win when they go to the polls Tuesday in a primary to pick nominees in the state’s 40 Assembly districts.

There are four open seats because of incumbent retirements. One of those is contested.

There are contested races in just under half of the 40 districts. Incumbents traditionally have a strong advantage in New Jersey because the county parties’ practice of bracketing their preferred candidates at the front or top of the ballot.

Among the most watched contests is in southern New Jersey’s 8th District. Incumbent Republican Joe Howarth lost party backing and is running as a supporter of Trump under the “MAGA,” or Make America Great Again, slogan.

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Democrats currently control 54 seats, while Republicans hold 26. Assembly members face voters every two years. Each of the state’s 40 districts elects two members.

The top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s primary will appear on the ballot in the fall.

A closer look at some of the races.

8th district

Howarth has pinned his chances on Trump’s name brand in this district, which includes parts of Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties.

Howarth has been in the Assembly since 2016 and was the running mate of former Republican state Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, who switched parties in January to become a Democrat. After her switch, Howarth lost the support of the Republican Party establishment in his district. He didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

The loss of establishment party support led Howarth to embrace the president, a fellow Republican whose administration overlapped with GOP losses in Burlington County. Howarth is running against fellow GOP incumbent Ryan Peters and former sheriff Jean Stanfield.

On the Democratic side, Gina LaPlaca, of Lumberton, and Mark Natale, of Marlton, have the party backing. They’re competing against Johnny Bravo, also of Marlton, who is running under the slogan of “A True Democrat.”

Open contested seat

In the 25th District, which includes parts of Morris and Somerset counties, incumbent Michael Patrick Carroll’s retirement has set up a race featuring four candidates running for two spots. Carroll is stepping down after serving in the Assembly since 1996.

Incumbent Republican Anthony Bucco, who has served since 2010, has the party backing and is running for another term. Also running is Brian Bergen, a West Point grad and Army veteran from Denville, competing against John Barbarula, an attorney from Randolph, running as a “Conservative Republican,” and Aura Kenny Dunn, of Mendham is a onetime aide to former Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. Her slogan is a “New Voice for New Jersey.”

Open seats

Three incumbent Assembly members are not seeking re-election. They are Democrat Patricia Egan Jones in southern New Jersey’s 5th District, Republican Amy Handlin in Monmouth County’s 13th District and Republican David Wolfe in Ocean County’s 10th District. In each of those races, the party’s chosen successor is running alongside an incumbent. The top two vote-getters in each party will advance to the general election.

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