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With all N.J. legislative seats up for election, little change expected

All 120 seats in the New Jersey Legislature are up for election Nov. 8. Despite voter dissatisfaction about the job the Legislature is doing, analysts don’t expect the Democrats will lose control of the Senate or Assembly.

Some experts believe the results of those races, however, could be a referendum on Gov. Chris Christie.

Two years ago, Christie became the first Republican in more than a decade to win a statewide election in New Jersey. This year, the GOP was hoping to make additional inroads and take control of at least one house of the Legislature. Analysts said that’s an unlikely scenario.

With no statewide candidate on the ballot, Rutgers University poll director David Redlawsk said the majority of likely voters surveyed say they see the legislative elections as a way to send a message about Christie.

“Fifty-four percent said yes, their vote will be either in support or opposition to the governor,” said Redlawsk. “And that group is pretty evenly split–28 percent will vote to support the governor, 26 percent say they will vote to oppose him.”

Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison, however, said she does not believe the election is a referendum on Christie.

“People realize that the governor is a very polemic figure, that he’s a lightning rod,” she said. “But I don’t know that they’re going to throw their Democratic incumbents out of office or embrace the Republican candidates in order to make their stand on the governor’s positions known.”

Governor: No reflection on me

Christie himself does not see the legislative races as a test of voter support for what he’s accomplished so far.

“These things are district-by-district races and I don’t see it as referendum on me. I see it as a referendum on the candidates that are on the ballot,” Christie said. “We have some good candidates on the ballot from our side that I am trying to help as much I can. And to the extent that they get elected, they will help me to move our agenda forward more rapidly than it’s moving now.”

Analysts say the legislative redistricting map approved earlier this year favors incumbents and means there are only a couple of competitive races.

Monmouth University political analyst Patrick Murray said one of them is in Atlantic County where Sen. Jim Whelan, an incumbent Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina.

“This is a race that’s really centering on issues related to Atlantic City and Atlantic City redevelopment, the tourism district, and also their own personal foibles about who’s getting more money on the dole or from the public payroll than the other,” Murray said. “So we’re already seeing a nasty campaign down there.”

Murray said the other legislative race considered to be a close contest is in Bergen County where freeholder chairman John Driscoll is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Gordon.

“The voter registration for Democrats has dropped from 22,000 to 12,000 in that district and that is actually a warning sign,” Murray said. “It’s very difficult for Democrats to win a district unless they have a 20,000-vote registration advantage.”

Those are just two of the 40 legislative districts in the state; analysts don’t expect voter dissatisfaction to make much of a difference in the other 38.

Low turnout expected

A recent Monmouth University poll showed only 33 percent of Garden State voters approve of the job the Legislature is doing. Murray said that probably won’t lead to a change in the Democrats’ control of either house.

“The people who are more likely to be dissatisfied with the Legislature are Democrats rather than Republicans,” Murray said. “I think they’re just unhappy with how much the Legislature has compromised with the governor whereas Republicans obviously are happy about that. But Democrats are not going to cross party lines to kick out their leadership.”

Analysts say most New Jersey residents don’t have much interest in the election and voter turnout is expected to be about 30 percent.

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