Anti-Incumbency Fever Doesn't Catch On In New Jersey

"Not much change in the Garden State" may be a pretty accurate, if not very exciting, summary of the results of yesterday's election here. Despite not enough jobs as part of the worst recession since the 1930s, New Jersey residents returned most of their national and state officials to their posts and retained the advantage of these seats for the Democrats.

With no 2010 Senatorial or Gubernatorial races this year, attention was on the 13 Congressional Districts, some special elections for the State Legislature, as well as local races at the county and municipal levels.

Heading into election night, the two questions on most pundits' minds were how keen citizens would be to vote out the incumbents and whether Democrats would retain their 8 to 5 congressional majority in the state. According to the Associated Press, New Jersey gained more than 18,000 registered Republican voters since June and only around 3,000 Democrats. Still, there were nearly twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans in New Jersey. As it turns out, incumbents at the Congressional and State Legislature levels were mainly voted back into office, with one incumbent Democrat House seat being lost and one Republican incumbent State Senate seat lost.

The most closely watched races were New Jersey's 3rd, 6th, and 12th Congressional Districts where Democratic incumbents faced significant challenges from Republican contenders. In the 3rd District, which spans much of Southern New Jersey, the GOP successfully put up former football star Jon Runyan to reclaim a long-held Republican seat lost to the Dem's John Adler in 2008. This race caught national headlines last month when a charge was widely reported that the Adler campaign had planted a tea party "fake" candidate to siphon off votes from Runyan.

That effort — whether true or not — did not pan out for Adler. Voters in the district chose to return the seat back to the GOP after two years, although the election was close. Runyan's campaign themes revolved around many of the same issues advanced by most Republican candidates including cutting taxes, creating jobs, and smaller government. Closer to home, Runyan promises to support beach replenishment along the coast and pursue energy solutions that include nuclear energy and offshore oil drilling.

In the 6th District, which stretches across Monmouth, Middlesex, Somerset, and Union Counties, long-time Democratic Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. faced one of the toughest fights of his 22 years in the House. Despite support from the tea party, Republican Anna Little fell short and Pallone, Jr. retained his seat, ensuring that his focus on health, energy, the environment, commerce, and telecommunications will continue to be represented at the national level.

Meanwhile in the 12th District, which covers central New Jersey from the Delaware River to the Atlantic coast, voters chose between Democrat incumbent Rush Holt — a mainstay of the district over the past decade — and self-funded business executive Scott Sipperelle, a Republican. In the end, even after Governor Chris Christie brought his highly sought endorsement to Sipperele, Holt claimed victory and retained his seat after a hard-fought race. A trained scientist, Holt will continue to advocate for his interests in the region including the innovation industry, alternative energy, and funding for science and technology.

Four Special Elections in the State Legislature saw three Democratic incumbents reclaim their seats and one Republican incumbent defeated by Democrat Linda Greenstein, who recently lent her support to the effort to save the ARC tunnel project. Also, a state constitutional amendment passed with overwhelming support to prohibit the collection by the State of assessments based on employee wages and salaries for any purpose except paying employee benefits.

While most congressional candidates retained their seats, at the local level, anti-incumbency sentiment seemed to play a greater role. Perhaps the most significant story of the night occurred in the state's most populous county, Bergen, where the GOP swept into power claiming three Freeholders seats, the sheriff's post and the top job of County Executive, ending eight years of unified Democrat control. The Republicans' message of lower taxes and less government spending resonated more than the Democrats' record of investments in infrastructure, including parks and open space.