In an October 26th radio interview on WCBS 880 AM, Chris Christie argued that since the 1962 election of Richard Hughes only one New Jersey governor avoided loosing seats in the legislature when facing their first midterm election – with the largest losses coming under Governor James Florio.
In 1991, Democrats lost 21 seats in the General Assembly and 10 in the State Senate under Florio.
On the eve of state legislative elections this Tuesday, Christie issued a statement that retaining the strength of the existing Republican minority in the legislature would constitute a victory, though he insisted a net gain of GOP seats was possible.
On Wednesday, results showed the election left Christie almost exactly where he started before voters went to the polls.
State of the battleground
Under its constitution, New Jersey is divided into 40 legislative districts – an electoral map that a Democrat-authored redistricting plan designed on the basis of the 2010 national census.
Each of the 40 legislative districts sends one representative to the State Senate, which Democrats control by a comfortable margin.
Christie’s statements suggested – though by no means conceded – that the governor anticipated Republicans would fail to enlarge their 16 seat minority, possibly even losing ground in the New Jersey Senate.
Election laws made the outlook for the General Assembly more complicated.
The state’s lower chamber is comprised of 80 representatives, with Democrats holding a 47 to 33 seat advantage over Republicans prior to November 8th. Each of the 40 legislative districts elects two representatives to the General Assembly, with voters able to support up to two candidates.
In New Jersey, if there is a contested party primary in a legislative district, the top two vote getters advance to the general election. Thus, in the contest for control of the General Assembly, all 40 legislative districts had at least three – and in most cases four or more – names on the ballet.
History – in addition to 2010 redistricting – was not on his side, and the governor downplayed expectations of any major political shake-ups. Regardless, the nature of the state’s election laws left the General Assembly a more fluid battleground – relatively speaking.
It was possible Christie’s decision to endorse the presidential campaign of Republican moderate Mitt Romney depressed turnout among Garden State conservatives, making legislative pick-ups difficult. On the other hand, New Jersey’s constitution requires the state to hold local elections in an off-year specifically to insulate it from national politics.
To the extent it mattered, the endorsement was counter-balanced by an October ruling by Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg to invalidate Christie’s pension reform for public sector workers – only for the pensions of the state’s judges.
Feinberg ruled increasing judges’ pension contributions by 9% violates the state constitution since it effectively reduces their salaries – an issue Christie seized on as November 8th neared.
It’s a wash
After all the votes were counted, the Democrats’ edge in the Assembly increased by exactly one vote, spliting the chamber 48-32. The balance of power in the Democrat-controlled State Senate remains unchanged at 24-16.
The die is cast. And in Garden State politics, it’s just another Wednesday.
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A CBS write up and free recording of Chris Christie’s full interview with Steve Scott and Wayne Cabot is available here
Full election results are available at the New Jersey Secretary of State’s webpage here