There were few surprises in yesterday’s sleepy primary election in New Jersey.
Of the 80 seats in the state General Assembly up for election this year, only about 15 seats had contested primaries, and even fewer were considered competitive.
The most closely-watched primary race turned out as many had expected. Assemblyman Joe Howarth, an incumbent in the 8th District in Burlington County, was defeated in his bid for the nomination after losing the GOP’s support earlier this year.
Howarth ran an avowedly pro-Trump campaign, describing himself as a “MAGA conservative,” but it was not enough to best the two candidates with the Republican Party’s backing — Assemblyman Ryan Peters and former Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield.
Political analysts said voters will see few truly competitive races in the November general election, when Democrats are likely to retain control of the lower chamber of the state Legislature.
“We’re not looking at any sea change in who controls Trenton regardless of what the outcomes of those races are,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Murray predicted that fewer than ten seats would be competitive in the fall, and most of them are held by Republicans. Murray says the GOP is struggling to win over voters in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
“I think we’re still in the throes of the anti-Trump sentiment that drives the general election electorate,” Murray said. “Even though it’s going to be a very low-turnout election, I think it’s going to be enough for those folks (Democrats) to hold on.”
Voter turnout tends to be low in off-year elections, when New Jersey holds its contests for state office. Turnout is especially low in years like this one, when only state Assembly seats (save for one special Senate election) are on the ballot.
Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said that creates an opportunity for well-organized groups of voters who want to sway certain contests.
“For example, you know that this year public employees are pretty charged up about some potential changes to their benefits and their pensions,” Rasmussen said. “If they decided that they needed to be really organized for this fall, they could probably have a bigger impact this year than any other year in New Jersey because of the low turnout in the election.”