Tomorrow is the New Jersey primary, with the Governor’s race atop the ballot. There is also a congressional runoff in downtown LA, and a special in New Hampshire. Poll closing times are as follows: 8 ET – New Jersey || 11 ET – CA-34. Our liveblog will start at 8 ET tomorrow night.
NJ-Gov (R, D): The big event tomorrow are the gubernatorial primaries across the Garden State. Both sides have races, but the GOP side is more competitive. To understand New Jersey primaries, you first need to understand that New Jersey is, in both parties, by far the most machine-dominated state of all. And the workhorse of machine politics in the Garden State is “The Line.” County Parties give their official endorsements to candidates – these endorsements determine a candidate’s position on the ballot and can move a large number of votes. As a result, this is the map to keep in mind for the GOP primary. Salem and Morris don’t have an official line and are thus colored in gray.
LG Kim Guadagno (R) has the party endorsement in the counties in red, and is the front-runner in this primary. After eight years as Christie’s #2, Guadagno does have statewide name recognition. However, Christie is toxic enough (by some accounts, America’s most unpopular Governor) that she has needed to run away from her association with him even in the GOP primary. Guadagno is a mainstream conservative, and her candidate skills have proven decent if unexceptional in this race. She has secured the Line in the red counties, which comprise the bulk of the state’s GOP voters, including the GOP-vote-rich bastions of Monmouth and Ocean. As a result, polls show her with a moderate lead in the primary and CW is betting on her to prevail by a solid, if not particularly impressive, margin.
Guadagno’s main rival, State Rep. Jack Ciattarelli (R), has the party endorsement in the counties in blue. Ciattarelli has represented a purple legislative district in the Princeton area for three terms and has a reputation as a moderate and skilled campaigner. He was able to secure some big-county endorsements for this race, but his name recognition and establishment support has not been enough to match Guadagno’s. Ciattarelli’s position to Guadagno’s left, including support for a tax increase on the wealthy, may also be a tough sell in a GOP primary. Thus, most polls have shown him behind her by a modest margin. However, the race is competitive enough that both candidates have seen the need to attack the other, and thus there is a small possibility Ciattarelli could pull the upset.
As an aside… why is Bergen County in Purple, you may ask? Funny story… the “Line” is noted on the ballot by a slogan next to the candidates name, usually of the form “X County Republican Organization” or something similar. In Bergen, the traditional slogan for GOP endorsed candidates is “Republicans for Responsible Government”. But this year, the Bergen GOP forgot to trademark their slogan, and it wound up being trademarked by the Essex GOP. As a result, though the Bergen County organization has endorsed Guadagno, Ciattarelli, who has the Essex endorsement, gets to use the “Republicans for Responsible Government” slogan next to his name, which is well-imprinted with many voters as the Line choice. So it’s very possible that Guadagno’s Bergen endorsement is not worth nearly as much as usual – that may not mean much for the Governor’s race, but it could be a big deal for SD-40 (see below).
Though Guadagno and Ciattarelli are the only serious candidates with a chance to win, one other notable candidate, Nutley councilman Steve Rogers (R), is also in the race. Rogers has been attempting to sell himself as the most Trump-friendly candidate in the race, but his low profile and lack of establishment support has hampered his ability to get traction in the expensive, machine-dominated state, and as a result he looks likely to remain in single-digits. Two Some Dudes are also in the race. Overall this looks like Guadagno’s primary to lose, but there is still a chance that Ciattarelli could surprise. Whomever the GOP primary winner is, however, will find a very tough general election ahead.
On the Democratic side, things are a lot quieter. Former ambassador and Goldman Sachs Executive Phil Murphy (D) has received the Line in every county the old-fashioned way, by simply purchasing it, Jon Corzine-style. Thanks to spreading his limitless wealth freely among party hacks, Murphy was able to coalesce establishment support and has been seen more or less as governor-in-waiting since the start of this race. That position has obviated the need for Murphy to do much other than spout liberal platitudes and run a generic campaign, though he has openly promised a large tax hike (on “the rich”, of course). But thanks to his machine backing, it seems like it will be enough for him to easily win the primary over five rivals, perhaps even with a majority of the vote.
State Rep. John Wisniewski (D) is Murphy’s most notable rival. Well-known for being one of the chief legislative investigators of Bridgegate, Wisniewski has a long history in politics and is a former NJDP chair. However, in Garden State politics, money talks and everything else walks, and Wisniewski has been unable to compete for machine backing with Murphy’s cash. He has thus attempted to run an insurgent liberal campaign by wrapping himself in the BernieBro mantle, promising a state-level single-payer healthcare system. However, Wisniewski doesn’t hail from a county (Middlesex) with a major Democratic vote-driving machine, and he missed out on the Line in every county, including embarrassingly his own.
Wisniewski’s attempt to run to Murphy’s left has also been complicated by two other credible candidates splitting the progressive anti-Murphy vote. Bill Clinton administration Treasury official and former federal prosecutor Jim Johnson (D) has received some buzz for strong fundraising and a tenure at one of the state’s major liberal think tanks. He is also the only major African-American candidate in the race, which could give him some base in that community. However, Johnson has no party Lines, no built-in support base, and little statewide name recognition, which means his main impact seems likely to be splitting the left-wing anti-Murphy vote base.
The final major anti-Murphy candidate is State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D). A 34-year legislative veteran who has been through many bare-knuckled machine political brawls in his hometown of Elizabeth, Lesniak has successfully keept most local power in the hands of his old-school white-ethnic machine instead of a largely Hispanic new guard. However, he has seemed far out of his depth in a statewide race, aborting and restarting his campaign multiple times. Like Wisniewski, he embarrassingly lost out on the Line in even his home county to Murphy, and his attempts to run a BernieBro style campaign have mostly succeeded in further splitting the left-wing anti-Murphy vote with Wisniewski and Johnson.
Two other candidates are in the race, Tenafly councilman Mark Zinna (D) and former state legislative candidate and retired firefighter Bill Brennan (D), but both seem like gadflies and seem unlikely to draw more than low single-digits. Overall this race remains Murphy’s contest to lose, both in the Dem primary and the general. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Likely D.
CA-34: The other big election of the day is a D-on-D runoff for this D+35 (2016) seat vacated by now-CA AG Xavier Becerra (D). The 65% Hispanic seat is based around Downtown LA, stretching from the Koreatown and Macarthur Park areas to the west through downtown to the very poor and monolithically Hispanic Boyle Heights to the east, and then north to the largely middle-class Hispanic northeast LA neighborhoods of Mt. Washington and Eagle Rock.
State Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D) has been the front-runner from day one of this race. The only prominent elected official to contest this seat, Gomez, a mainstream liberal, easily locked up most establishment support. However, the massive field in the primary succeeded at holding down his vote share, and he received just 28% in the first round. In spite of that relatively mediocre first-round performance, Gomez still seems the favorite to get to Congress in the second round. While much of the energy in the primary focused on a number of more liberal candidates hitting the Clinton-endorsing, establishment-backed Gomez from the left, that dynamic has dissipated and many of the left-wing forces that opposed Gomez vehemently in March have now backed him in the runoff against his more moderate opponent.
Robert Lee Ahn
Gomez’s rival is former zoning board member Robert Lee Ahn (D), who easily took second place in the March primary with 19%. Ahn was able to come in second based on strong turnout from the Korean community, who have been known to bloc vote for their chosen candidate (most notably in the upset win of David Ryu (D) for a recent city council race). Aided by a fair amount of self-funding, Ahn has also surprisingly outraised Gomez. A Republican until 2012, Ahn has run as a relative moderate (though still a mainstream liberal overall), so he could get some crossover support from the district’s small but significant GOP contingent. But that also means there hasn’t been the same kind of establishment vs. left-wing grassroots dynamic in this round, as both are backing Gomez. Additionally, the much larger Hispanic population relative to the Korean community in the seat leaves Gomez as a clear favorite on demographics. However, Ahn is credible and in an ultra-low-turnout, one-party race, there is always at least some possibility that strange turnout patterns could lead to a shocking upset. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe D/Lean Gomez.
Special Elections: There is a special primary election this week for NH-SD-16, a formerly-D-held R+1 (2016; Clinton carried it by 100 votes) district covering the north side of Manchester and some northern suburbs. Manchester councilman Kevin Cavanaugh (D) has most establishment support and looks like the favorite over 90s-era ex-Executive Councilor Jim Normand (D) in the Dem primary. The D winner will face ex-State Sen. David Boutin (R), who retired from this seat in 2016, in what should be a very competitive general.
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