Voters finalized their picks Tuesday for the top of the Republican and Democratic state Assembly tickets this November, as this fall's main event came into focus.
Just five of the state's 40 legislative districts featured competitive races. That mirrors roughly the number of competitive races experts say they expect on Nov. 3, when voters will elect a new General Assembly.
Incumbents won four of the five competitive races, and candidates with establishment support won the fifth.
This year, for the first time in 16 years, the Assembly is atop the ticket because of a quirk in term lengths.
At stake for Democrats is the opportunity to build on their majority. They control 48 of 80 seats. Republicans have a chance to capture the majority for the first time since 2001, though analysts say the makeup of legislative districts makes that a difficult job.
Lawmakers could also put a referendum on whether to approve casinos in northern New Jersey on the ballot. The issue divides legislators along geographic lines and would probably result in a significant influx of outside cash into the campaign, Election Law Enforcement Commission executive director Jeff Brindle said.
Democratic voters in New Jersey's 15th, 20th and 31st Districts saw contested races Tuesday, while the GOP featured contests in the 9th and 24th Districts.
Each district elects two people to the Assembly, and most party-backed candidates run together as a ticket.
— Incumbents DiAnne Gove and Brian Rumpf defeated Howard Height and Fredric Kociban in the 9th District, which includes parts of Atlantic, Burlington and Ocean counties.
— In the Mercer and Hunterdon County-based 15th District, incumbents Reed Gusciora and Liz Muoio held off a challenge from attorney Dan Toto.
— Incumbents Jamel Holley and Annette Quijano, running together, prevailed in the Elizabeth-centered 20th District, which featured a three-way competition. They beat challengers Tony Monteiro and Giuliano Farina and Jorge Batista and Vivian Bell.
— In northwest New Jersey's 24th District, incumbent Parker Space and ticket-mate Gail Phoebus defeated challengers Marie Bilik and Nathan Orr, who ran separately.
— Nicholas Chiaravalloti, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, and ticket-mate Angela McKnight won in Hudson County's 31st District. The contest featured two open seats. The winners had establishment backing and took on several challengers, including Joseph Conte and Ray Regalado and Bruce Alston and Washington Flores.
Analysts expect the southern New Jersey 1st and 2nd Districts to be among the most hotly contested in November. They also expect northern New Jersey's 38th District to have a competitive race.
New Casino Wrinkle?
Three Democratic lawmakers from northern New Jersey introduced a long-discussed proposal this week to let voters weigh in on expanding casino gambling in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties. Southern New Jersey lawmakers oppose the idea.
Brindle said he thinks the general election campaign would likely see moderate spending. But if the casino question is before voters $25 million could be spent, he said.