New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said yesterday’s election, in which his Republican Party failed to gain any seats in the state Legislature, was “no big shocker” because of a new political map that favors Democrats.
Democrats maintained their 24-16 control over the Senate and added one seat in the Assembly, giving them a 48-32 edge, according to the Associated Press and Star-Ledger. Votes for all 120 seats in the Legislature were cast yesterday, in an election that may prove a test of the limits of the power wielded by the first-term governor.
In two Senate races where Christie campaigned and raised money, Republicans failed to unseat incumbent Democrats. The governor, whose popularity in October rose to the highest since he took office in 2010, said his party is constrained in making gains by the redistricting that took place in April.
“I never said, contrary to popular belief, that my power was unlimited,” Christie, 49, told reporters today in Newton. “This is democracy, elections happen. And when elections happen with a gerrymandered map, you get gerrymandered results.”
Christie said Oct. 31 that he would declare victory even if Republicans failed to pick up any new seats, because every New Jersey governor except one in the last 48 years lost spots in the Legislature in the midterm elections. He said today that his party captured a majority of county-level elected offices statewide and downplayed the lost Assembly seat, saying it was the byproduct of redistricting, not a failed campaign.
During town-hall meetings in the first few months of this year, Christie urged voters to send him a Republican majority to speed up passage of his agenda. His message changed after April, when a panel redrawing New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts approved an electoral map that favored Democrats.
Costas Panagopoulos, assistant professor of political science and director of the Center for Electoral Politics at Fordham University in New York, said yesterday wasn’t a ‘colossal defeat’ for Christie’s party, though it may be a test of how far his reach extends.
“There are limits to gains that Republicans can make in New Jersey and across the board,” he said in a telephone interview. “If this becomes part of a longer trend of shortcomings or failures on the part of Christie to deliver for New Jersey, or to keep the Republican Party strong across the state, that has the potential to be detrimental.”
The new legislative map shifted Republican Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco, of Franklin Township, into a more Democratic- leaning district, which he lost. A Democrat won DiCicco’s seat yesterday.
The legislative boundaries are redrawn every 10 years, after the census, to reflect population shifts. After the last redrawing in 2001, Democrats nabbed both houses in New Jersey. That map also helped Democratic Governor James McGreevey win seats in his midterm two years later, Christie said.
“I do believe we’re going to make history,” Christie told reporters on Oct. 31. “If we’re not one of those administrations who loses seats even with this awful map that was foisted upon us, we’ve made history.”
Each legislative district in New Jersey elects two Assembly members and one senator. Assembly members serve two-year terms while senators serve four-year terms except for the first term of a new decade, which is two years.
Democratic control has forced Christie, New Jersey’s first Republican elected governor in 12 years, to compromise on a local property-tax cap and an overhaul of public-employee pensions and benefits. He was unable to enact some education proposals, including basing teacher pay on student performance.
The New Jersey Education Association, the largest state teachers union, doubled contributions to legislative candidates and committees in the quarter ended Sept. 30. It withheld donations to Democrats who supported a bill to raise worker costs for health care and benefits, signed by Christie in June.
Christie that month also signed a $29.7 billion budget for fiscal 2012 after cutting almost $1 billion added by Democrats for schools, police and tax credits for the working poor. Democrats failed to garner enough votes to reverse his cuts.
The governor said overhauling public schools will be his top priority for the lame-duck session that follows the elections. He said he plans to meet with legislative leaders and reach a deal on his proposals, which include changes to teacher tenure and privately funded vouchers for students in failing schools.
Not Veto Proof
Democrats need a two-thirds majority, or 27 members in the Senate and 54 in the Assembly, to override Christie vetoes, and three-fifths to send proposals directly to voters.
Christie, who faces re-election in 2013, made a September fundraising swing through western states that generated more than $620,000 from non-New Jersey sources, out of almost $1.5 million raised by the state Republican Party last quarter, according to an election filing.
The New Jersey Republican State Committee this year collected $3.2 million through Sept. 30, while the Democratic State Committee raised $889,450, according to a summary of campaign-finance reports from the election commission. Democrats outpaced Republicans in individual fundraising, though, with $8.6 million of campaign cash as of Oct. 18 compared with $4.7 million for Republicans.
‘Christie Fatigue Index’
Christie “clearly wanted to be a factor in this election by injecting himself in his TV commercials and his personal appearances,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski of Sayreville, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said in a conference call with reporters today.
“It didn’t wash for the Republicans he was trying to push forward,” Wisniewski sad. “New Jersey is quickly increasing in its ’Christie fatigue index’ and I think that the people of the state of New Jersey want government ultimately to produce results, not rancor, and Chris Christie is expert in producing rancor but not necessarily always so good at producing results.”
Christie on Oct. 4 put an end to speculation that he might enter the Republican field to challenge President Barack Obama, after party leaders and financial backers called on the governor to reconsider a year of denials that he would run. Christie’s approval rating among New Jersey voters climbed to a record 58 percent in an Oct. 12 Quinnipiac University poll.
Christie will campaign in New Hampshire later today for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whom he endorsed last month.
Support for Christie’s pension measure was a campaign issue in New Jersey’s Bergen County, as incumbent Senator Robert Gordon, a Democrat who opposed the bill, defeated Republican Freeholder Director John Driscoll, 53 percent to 47 percent. Senator Jim Whelan, a Democrat from Atlantic City who voted for the pension package, beat Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina, 54 percent to 46 percent.
“I have a feeling there’s not much of a party in Drumthwacket tonight,” Gordon said during his victory speech, referring to the governor’s mansion in Princeton, where Christie spent election night.
The Whelan-Polistina race was the most expensive in the state, with $3.8 million raised and $3.2 million spent through Oct. 25, election records show.
Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, said some Republican strongholds across the state didn’t post strong returns in the election, which she said could pose trouble for the governor. In 2007, the last time the full Legislature faced re-election without a governor’s race, 32 percent of registered voters cast ballots, records show.
“You can’t attribute the entire outcome throughout the state to Governor Christie, just as you couldn’t have if the Republicans had won,” Harrison said. “Those indicators say that perhaps 2013 isn’t going to be a cakewalk for Governor Christie and that there’s still work to be done.”
--Editors: Stacie Servetah, William Glasgall
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